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Remaining focussed on our neighbourhood policing vision

Last Wednesday was one of the most challenging in my seven years of service as Police and Crime Commissioner as I used my powers to suspend the Chief Constable, who has been accused of allegations which he strongly denies.

Remaining focussed on our neighbourhood policing vision

The Commissioner visits Okehampton Police Station on Monday, July 31, 2023

It is normal practice to take this step when officers of all ranks face such allegations. Suspension is regarded as a neutral act which allows investigations to reach a conclusion.

What is not usual is for that individual to be publicly named. Given that Commissioners only hire and oversee one officer – the most senior in the force – those officers are identified in such cases.

The suspension has come at a challenging time for the force, which is now being led by Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell.

What is vitally important to the communities we serve, and therefore me, is that we retain focus on the strategic aims of improving our police force and reshaping it in a way that best protects and connects the force with residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

With that in mind, this week I will continue visits to police stations where I am working with the force to reopen police enquiry offices.

Having visited Looe in Cornwall and Plymouth’s Devonport (which is getting a front desk for the first time), my team will be dropping in to Okehampton, Ilfracombe, Honiton and Kingsbridge this week. Properly staffed front desks will open at these locations this financial year, bringing the total number reopened or opened under this project to 13. I am also visiting Ivybridge and Bideford to explore the possibilities of reopening front desks there.

Four more are due to follow in the next two financial years, and with that in mind I am visiting Bideford in North Devon to check out options for an enquiry office there.

I was pleased to be able to update Friday’s meeting of the police and crime panel on this project. Members of the panel, which comes together four times a year to scrutinise my decisions, were also told of the powerful impact good neighbourhood policing can have on a community, when Plymouth University PhD candidate Caroline Watson, Dr Katie McBride and Professor Zoë James presented findings of a report into the response to the tragic shootings in Keyham, almost two years ago.

My office worked with Plymouth City Council, the MP for the area and multiple partners, to secure a package of government funding to support a recovery programme. Some was used to improve public spaces and security measures, some was spent on supporting those directly affected by these crimes and just over half a million pounds was invested in bolstering the Keyham Neighbourhood Policing team.

These university concluded that this experienced team, with its visible and reassuring presence, reduced crime and antisocial behaviour without negatively affecting other parts of the city. Those who had contact with them reported feeling more confident in policing.

These conclusions are perhaps unsurprising. Good neighbourhood policing reduces crime and therefore has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the force, meaning there are fewer incidents to respond to and boosting public confidence.

The university’s team have presented this work to the Home Office and I hope a lesson is learned for UK Policing. My mission is to ensure our executive team remain focussed on delivering a similar model of preventative policing across our force area. I will be using every power and lever at my disposal to help the force work at pace to do this and want popping into your local police station to seek help or advice or approaching a friendly officer in your community to become a natural thing to do once again.