Photo credit: Laura Shimili Mears, 2019
One of the key roles of the Police and Crime Commissioner is to scrutinise their police force and provide a check to decisions that have been made. This process helps the police to improve and provides a way for people to gain influence at the highest level of the organisation.
I too have my decisions examined and this is done by a panel of councillors who come from around Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with two independent members. On Friday it was again time to allow them to scrutinise the work of my office and mark progress against my police and crime plan.
Much has been accomplished since the plan was published two years ago. Three days before the panel I had been showing visitors from the Association for Police and Crime Commissioners around the new Exeter police station. Giving the green light to this £29m project was one of my first major decisions and it is fantastic to see such progress since then.
We awarded the contract to Willmott Dixon, largely because they pledged to reinvest a significant amount of the total spend on local tradespeople and committed to pass on these essential skills to a new generation of apprentice bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers and electricians.
This development and our plans for improvements in Cornwall are featured in the 2018-19 annual report which was among items scrutinised by panel members. The report also explains how the number of police officers budget for has risen from 2,924 in my first year of office to a projected 3,100 by the end of next year. It has required hard work and the support of our communities through police precept rises but we are heading in the right direction.
The panel was also provided with an update from the Chief Constable, Shaun Sawyer, on the challenges placed on the force by the huge numbers of visitors who come our way between April and October. In Devon and Cornwall we have the largest force area in England coupled with urban areas, isolated coastal communities and rural areas that are sparsely populated.
While the rises in police officer numbers help to address these problems simply paying for more police is not the only solution, it must go hand in hand with a community effort – that approach, something I call connectivity – is at the heart of my police and crime plan.
That plan is personified by the volunteers who give their own time to make our communities safer. Some of these volunteers will be celebrated this week in Neighbourhood Watch Week.
Perhaps in recognition that it is a little misunderstood the charity that co-ordinates and advises volunteers, the Neighbourhood Watch Network, is using the hashtag #MoreThanYouExpect.
Neighbourhood Watch is not purely a crime prevention movement and organisers wants to give people a more rounded sense of what Neighbourhood Watch is all about. For example, Neighbourhood Watch volunteers are at the forefront of tackling loneliness and isolation in their communities, as well keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.
It is by far the largest crime prevention movement in England and Wales, with 2.3m member households. In Devon and Cornwall that equates to 68,000 registered households.
Volunteers are now provided with the latest information on tackling everything from terrorism to domestic abuse and can advise their neighbours on scams, local developments within policing and a variety of other topics.
Neighbourhood Watch schemes in Devon and Cornwall assist our police force in detecting crime and improve connections between police and communities by fostering regular connections.
Schemes are run by their members and led by a resident volunteer co-ordinator, whose job it is to get people working together and make sure things get done.
We are fortunate in Devon and Cornwall to have a wonderful Community Watch Association chair in Julie Dowton. I’m keen to do more to encourage this type of volunteering and have agreed that my office will work with the national charity to fund a co-ordinator’s post to help the number of schemes in our area grow and to ensure efficient and effective administration.
So if you’re thinking about helping your community why not use Neighbourhood Watch Week as an excuse to set up a scheme in your area or join an existing scheme? Information on how to do so can be found online at devon-cornwall.police.uk/neighbourhoodwatch or on Neighbourhood Watch Network’s website at ourwatch.org.uk. Together we can help Devon and Cornwall to remain as among the safest counties in the country.