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'Sport has the ability to change lives – just ask AJ' - says commissioner

'Sport has the ability to change lives – just ask AJ' - says commissioner

Sport has the ability to change lives – just ask AJ

The Government’s announcement that it wanted to add another 20,000 police officers to forces in England and Wales between 2020 and 2023 was great news for our communities and anyone wanting to become a police officer.

It did, however, pose a serious question to police training colleges, which suddenly faced substantial challenges in hitting targets to increase overall force strength.

Because of the number of officers retiring or leaving increasing overall officer numbers was pretty challenging Covid hit. Online instead of face to face learning and the fact that student officers are now studying for a degree were added complications.

In Devon and Cornwall I had already been convinced that we needed more police officers and with assistance of our communities had already embarked on an uplift programme for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Fortunately Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures out last Thursday confirmed that we are well on target to achieve our allocation. Nationally 11,053 of these new officers are already in post. So far Devon and Cornwall Police has successfully recruited 229 of its allocated uplift, meaning a current strength of 3,394.

That number is expected to rise to 279 by next April and 423 12 months later, bringing the total number of officers to 3,610 – significantly higher than the 3,556-officer record set in pre-austerity 2010.

I have to say a big thank you to the force’s training college which has soldiered on despite lockdowns to ensure that our communities have many more police officers heading their way.

One of key tasks for these new officers will be to crack down on the drug dealing that blights so many of our cities, towns and villages. It emerged in my survey last year as a key area that residents of the force area want more action on and I have identified it as a priority in my emerging police and crime plan, which sets a strategic direction for the force to 2025.

As the ONS confirmed officer uplift numbers I was in Bridgwater where I joined Commissioners from Dorset, Avon and Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire to discuss a regional approach to the effort to rid our communities of the scourge of drugs, which not only cause misery and death to their users but are also the root cause of so much other crime.

We want the South West to be a hostile environment for dealers and are determined to work together to that end, ensuring our forces have enough resource to target those who exploit the vulnerable and profit from this trade, whether it be on the roads and rail network or in our communities.

While I am sure that enforcement is critical to success in this area – I want drug dealers to know that if they try and trade in our area they can expect a very loud and early knock on the door – we cannot rid ourselves of them without our communities on side.

We have some very strong communities in Devon and Cornwall and I want money spent by my office to help them help themselves.

An example of this principle in action is through the work of Street Games. Before my regional meeting I was at the Manadon Sports and Community Hub run by Plymouth Argyle to hear about the work this national charity is doing with funding from the Serious Violence Prevention Programme, an initiative the Chief Constable and I established a year ago.

Street Games is engaging young people in Plymouth in sporting activity to encourage physical fitness, discipline, leadership and teamwork so they are less likely to get into trouble. It is not a new concept. International heavyweight Anthony Joshua has credited Finchley Boxing Club with getting him on the straight and narrow after he walked in aged 18.

Plymothians are fortunate enough to have in their midst Chrissy Peacock, a former Royal Navy boxing coach who was last year awarded a British Empire Medal for services to her sport. She has been working with young people in her community for years, ensuring that they have a positive role model in their lives and a safe place they can call their own. Funding will ensure her work, and the work of coaches from myriad other sports, is on a more secure footing.

I am convinced that this triple approach of diverting young people away from crime, taking enforcement action against criminals with a greater police presence and greater regional collaboration between forces is the solution that will deliver safer and more prosperous communities.

Watch Chrissy and some of the others we met last week talk about StreetGames on our YouTube video