As we draw down the curtain on 2019 I am very pleased that we can look ahead to the next 12 months with a degree of positivity.
When I was elected I promised to lobby the Government to recognise the unique issues faced every day by those policing the communities of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
I think that message is starting to get through thanks to our ‘Investing in Police’ campaign - which we took to Westminster on a number of occasions in 2019 - and, combined with pressure from PCCs around the country, I am sure was a key factor in influencing the Government’s decision to boost officer numbers by 20,000 over the next three years.
In Devon and Cornwall this means our total number of officers will increase by about 140 in 2020, on top of the 126 we have been able to deliver over the last three years with the support of council tax payers. But I don’t want all the conversations we have in the coming months to be just about officer numbers.
Over the course of 2019 my engagement team attended over 170 public events, of various sizes, and talked to people from across all sections of society. This resulted in over 14,000 conversations and produced a wealth of anecdotal evidence which tells us how the public feels about its police force.
And this year we have seen a shift in emphasis – no longer are people telling us that their key issue is more police officers.
At 37 events we gave people three tokens and asked them ‘If you were the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall and this was your entire budget where would you spend the money?’
The options given were: In my neighbourhood, on the internet, on the roads, on preventing crime, preparing for national emergency and other.
A total of 8,875 people took part – by far and away the biggest survey we have ever carried out, and we were a little surprised when crime prevention was the people’s choice. Such data really helps PCCs when they are working to develop a Police and Crime Plan.
Of course, the results do still show that people want to see police officers and PCSOs in their neighbourhoods, and that is in line with the key priority in my current Police and Crime Plan. But for those officers to be in the right frame of mind to carry out their duties and to keep providing a great service, it is important they have the best possible working conditions. A happy workforce will always provide a better service.
So I am very pleased that in 2019 we have been able to make some good progress in supporting police officers and staff to do their job.
In January we were able to announce that Bodmin Police Station was now an official operational police headquarters for Cornwall.
And early next year Devon will also get a brand new operational HQ when the new police station opens in Exeter. It will be home to 450 officers and staff who were previously based in the outdated station at Heavitree Road, while the Exeter neighbourhood team moves into the Civic Centre.
Liskeard and Camborne will also see brand new facilities come on line later in the year.
For now I want to say how proud I am of the work all our officers and staff do at all times, in all weathers and, often in harrowing situations, to make Devon and Cornwall a safe place to live, work and play. Their work in reducing crime, bringing criminals to justice, supporting victims and safeguarding the vulnerable is inspirational.
They are the people who selflessly leave their own families to keep others safe, they will run towards problems that most run away from, they are at the front end of dealing with difficult situations and we should all be thankful for their dedication, commitment and professionalism in carrying out that duty.
Undoubtedly 2020 will have challenges for us all – for me too as I seek re-election to another term as your police and crime commissioner, but we should go into it with enthusiasm for what lies ahead and in the knowledge that we can make a huge difference to people’s lives.