On Friday I took part in the first ever digital Police and Crime Panel. With the easing of lockdown enabling thousands of tourists to head our way, pubs reopening and the launch of our £500,000 alcohol related antisocial behaviour hotspot fund this meeting might not seem like the most exciting thing going on in policing right now, but I want to take a few column inches to explain its important role.
The panel, for those of you who have never attended or followed online, is made up of councillors from around Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and two independent members.
Its job is to scrutinise the decisions made by me, particularly around the spending of public money. For anyone wanting to understand the changes in policing, whether it’s our significant recruitment campaign, how police are coping with Covid and what the plans are to deal with a summer surge in visitors at this unprecedented time, it is worth tuning in to the webcast, which can be found here.
With Police and Crime Commissioner elections delayed by a year due to coronavirus and my term extended the challenge provided by the panel is important in strengthening democratic accountability in the absence of a public vote that should have taken place in May. So I was glad that we were able to continue with the meeting virtually when we couldn’t meet face to face, as we usually do, in Plymouth.
The panel were also considering what issues they would like to examine at future meetings, which included concerns around the time it can take to report non urgent police matters via the 101 phone number. I would support any decision by the Panel to look at 101. This is an issue that I remain concerned about and despite improvements like the introduction of call handling software and new methods of contacting the force, it is still an issue for some of our residents.
I was pleased that there was widespread support among councillors for our project to make Devon and Cornwall even safer places this summer with an additional £900,000 from my office to be spent on our Safer Summer Scheme. Of this £500,000 will fund measures in 20 locations across Devon and Cornwall to tackle antisocial behaviour. In partnership with councils the money will be spent on providing street marshals, CCTV, supporting volunteer schemes and even temporary toilets.
The 20 locations are: Exmouth seafront and Orcombe Point, Exeter Quay, Exeter Cathedral, Bideford Quay, Woolacombe Beach, Croyde Bay, Torquay seafronts, Paignton seafronts, Newton Abbot, Teignmouth waterfront, Brixham Waterfront and Harbour, Towan Beach and waterfront (Newquay), Fistral Beach (Newquay), St Ives Waterfront, Lemon Quay (Truro), Perran Sands (Perranporth), Penzance waterfront, Bude waterfront, Plymouth Hoe and Plymouth Barbican.
Importantly these measures will be in addition to extra policing, and will aid a frontline bolstered by the scheme’s remaining £400,000. This is being spent on supporting the force with a range of measures at its busiest time of year. Sadly during the summer months Devon and Cornwall see a huge rise in calls for help from the police.
This year we have the added challenge of the coronavirus pandemic to contend with, and I was also extremely pleased that several members of the panel recognised the extraordinary efforts made by police officers and police staff during the last three months.
For example, the recent demonstrations by people campaigning against racism were handled sensitively and professionally. We had more of these protests than most other force areas and they went off almost entirely peacefully, with the vast majority of people social distancing and complying with police requests.
Over the next few months policing is set to change rapidly, in response to the uplift in officer numbers, in response to covid restriction changes and in response to the summer surge in tourist numbers.
The easing of the lockdown at the weekend was one example of the challenges faced by policing at the moment, particularly in our area. The force received more than 1,000 calls for help on Saturday alone. So, to end, I’d urge anyone taking advantage of the more relaxed regulations to help our frontline officers and street marshals by respecting others and keeping safe as they have fun.