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Making time for tea and flag-waving

In her latest blog, Alison talks about police officers taking a tea break and investing in flagpoles at the Bodmin HQ.

How the police spend their time and money is high on the agenda both locally and nationally as next year’s police budgets are finalised. Our postbox and Facebook feed will deliver a whole range of opinions, not all of them full of praise for decisions taken.

Last week officers who had the cheek to have a tea break on Plymouth Hoe provoked the ire of a member of the public who sent pictures of marked vehicles stopped outside the café to their local paper. His argument was that if the force really is as hard-pressed as it claims to be, how could they afford to sit around sipping cuppas?

Then the decision to equip the Cornwall Headquarters with flagpoles so that the St Piran’s Cross could be flown outside the building was sharply criticised by a local councillor, prompting a Facebook campaign and a feature on BBC Radio Cornwall on whether the £1,160 cost of the poles was money well spent.

I’d wholeheartedly agree that both issues are worthy of discussion and will address the tea break issue first.

Perhaps some members of the public would like frontline officers to work flat-out through their shifts without stopping for lunch, dinner or a coffee, but it’s not a course of action I’d advise. The fact is that far too many officers do exactly that – if you visit a police station one thing you often see is unfinished cups of tea, left to go cold when officers are called away on a job. The Plymouth Hoe coffee stop drew attention perhaps because it wasn’t something the public are used to seeing.

And although some people might prefer officers to take breaks in canteens within the safety and security of a police station, officers are actually encouraged to take their breaks in public places. We want them embedded into our communities, we want them to be visible and we want them on hand if something happens.

Make no mistake, their job can be tough, and it’s right that they take the time to replenish body and soul. The welfare of officers is paramount, that’s why in each year since I was elected I have increased the budget to increase their numbers and to give them better equipment to do their jobs.

My proposed budget for 2019-20 would see a rise in the council tax precept of 41p a week for a Band C property. This would allow the chief constable to add to the ranks and mean they would be more likely to be able to take the breaks to which they are entitled, and which any responsible employer encourages. I hope the public will support this investment that would allow the chief constable to recruit another 85 officers to increase force strength to 3,100 police officers in Devon and Cornwall, the highest number since 2012 when the old Police Authority voted to slash the workforce to 2,815. 

The debate on whether we should have invested in new flagpoles for our Bodmin HQ was linked by its main critic to the fact that we’re currently asking the public whether they would support the extra investment in our force. Taken in isolation spending on these poles might appear unnecessary but they should be considered as part of our £13m investment in the force estate in Cornwall, and the fact that the police force, like our armed forces, is a crown service and there is an expectation that the union flag should be flown.

We are able to make that investment because of prudent management of the capital budget, which is not to be confused with the budget that pays for day-to-day expenditure like police officer salaries. I love spending time west of the Tamar, and when I do so I’m always struck by the pride of the residents and their sense of place. On Monday (January 28) the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall will be rededicating the Bodmin Police Hub as a police headquarters for Cornwall.

The investment we’re making in Cornwall is in response to concerns that residents and Cornwall councillors have told me that they think that not enough attention is given to the issues that concern them such as rural crime and deprivation and a population that swells in the summer months because of tourism.

A headquarters with a St Piran’s flag flying at its door, coupled with a plan to boost officer numbers and invest heavily in their police stations should reassure them that they have been heard.

Alison Hernandez