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Meaningful engagement, not the illusion of inclusion

In her latest blog, Alison talks about her duty to consult and how we engage with Devon and Cornwall communities.

Meaningful engagement, not the illusion of inclusion

When police and crime commissioners were first elected in 2012 the Government made it a duty for them to consult with local communities. This Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act says that when a PCC makes a decision about improving or changing services, they need to be confident it is properly informed by public opinion.

I treat public engagement very seriously – it’s at the heart of all the major decisions that we take, for instance when I chose not to progress with the proposed merger with Dorset Police it was after spending the summer gathering opinions from many thousands of people from all across Devon and Cornwall.

Good public engagement aims to bring people and communities together to address issues of common importance, to solve shared problems and to bring about positive social change. When done well it gives a voice to those who have traditionally been left out of political and policy debates.

I am very proud of the way my office has improved the way we have conversations with the public – and we have got better at it every year by testing new ways to get our message out, new ways of listening to voices and new ways for you to influence the way communities are policed.

Of course, digital engagement is important and we have quickly developed our own digital identity, expanding our footprint and using it to communicate with users of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The number of followers on our Facebook and Twitter accounts is high among other OPCCs, with 1,782 and 7,525 respectively, and we have by far and away the most popular OPCC Instagram account, with 371 followers.

Use of Facebook and Twitter is a key weapon in our engagement armoury – if we want to engage quickly and in a cost-effective way with lots of people then it is the best way to achieve that. We also produce a PCC’s newsletter distributed via the Force’s community messaging system which has a potential audience of about 40,000 subscribers.

But the best public engagement happens when we get up close and personal with our communities, when we stand in front of them and say ‘Right – tell us what you think…..”   

A week or so ago I welcomed four new community engagement workers into the team. In total we have eight CEWs and they play such a vital role. CEWs are employed for between 70 and 250 hours a year – a total of 1,335, hours which is the equivalent of about two thirds of one full-time equivalent. They are based geographically so generally work where they live, providing support  at all sorts of events and meetings, reducing the need for others to travel from Exeter. It is an innovative and cost-effective way to serve communities the length and breadth of this massive area – the largest geographical police area in England.

The team is the envy of other OPCCs and currently being considered by at least one other commissioner as a way to improve its public engagement.

In 2018 their presence allowed my office to attend at a total of 96 public events. That includes 22 diversity events such as Pride, Respect and Blue Light Days. We supported Polish independence, Diwali and Stop Hate. We carried out 30 talks for organisations such as Rotary Clubs, Women’s Institutes, Soroptomists and Probus Clubs. This was something new we were piloting and the response has been fantastic so the team is planning to do more in 2019.

We held Meet Your PCC events in supermarkets, attended district shows, spoke to farmers at livestock markets and businesspeople at trade exhibitions – anywhere that we could get face-to-face with the people in communities who want to tell us their experiences of the police.

And while we were there, as well as asking about the merger, we carried out a really important piece of work, allowing people to tell us what most concerned them about road safety. This received 8,774 votes with 4,387 people, all of which fed directly into my recently published road safety strategy which is now being used to influence national decision making about road safety and policing.

Real people making a real difference to other people’s lives – it’s proper engagement, not the illusion of inclusion.

In 2019 the team is already talking to community safety partnerships about doing some really targeted, truly local, community engagement events, and we will be working closely with the police’s new rural crime team to host a series of rural crime surgeries.

Please see the map attached to this blog which shows exactly where the team visited in 2018 – if your town doesn’t feature and there is an event you think we should attend, or if you are involved with a group or organisation and would like someone to come along and talk to you about the work of the OPCC then email us at:

Alison Hernandez