Summer events bring out the best in our communities. Whether they are built around the South West’s amazing food and drink or, like the Respect festivals, recognise and celebrate the region’s growing diversity, these days really help my team and I learn a lot more about the people the police serve.
It’s only when you venture outside a police station or the slightly detached world of Middlemoor that you start to find out what really worries people, what they’d like to see policing in their communities look like and what crimes affect their everyday lives.
Gauging public opinion and using it to shape policy is an absolutely vital part of a Police and Crime Commissioner’s remit – it’s arguably our most important duty. That’s why our office calendar is rammed and we don’t just put our feet up on a Saturday or Sunday.
Just this weekend my team and I were at the Exeter Respect festival, Barnstaple’s Diversity Festival and Exmouth Pride. In the next few weeks they will be at festivals, country fairs and Meet Your PCC events across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
It’s a part of our work that has grown over the last couple of years, and this summer the task is more important than ever. That’s because we’re asking members of the public to tell us what they think about plans to merge our force with that of Dorset’s.
Even though we’re already working together in a whole range of functions, like roads policing, dogs and our new drone unit, a merger represents a big change. It would mean one legal entity to police a vast part of England, from St Agnes in the Scillies to Bournemouth in the east. It would mean one chief constable, working on a single vision with a single police and crime commissioner.
In the professional opinions of the two current chiefs a coming together of the two forces makes sense for a number of reasons.
By working closer together, cutting duplication and making the most of our combined resources, a merger would be even more efficient than our current set up, even though we already have 25 per cent of staff working on shared functions. It would also create the fifth largest force in the country, giving us and you a stronger national voice when we’re fighting for resources.
There are plenty of similarities between the force areas and therefore the types of crime we are tasked with tackling. In Devon and Cornwall we’re used to the complexities of policing a large rural area and a population which swells hugely in the summer – many of the same issues are experienced by our partners in Dorset.
I’ve listened to concerns that a single force covering Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly might mean a dilution of local policing, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Each county will have its own headquarters providing higher local visibility and accountability.
There are inevitable questions about the merger that we’re still working out the answers to: What might a combined force be called? (You’re welcome to email or tweet me any suggestions). Where might the headquarters sit? And what would the uniform be like?
There’s also the issue of how police are funded. Currently households in Dorset pay £18 a year more for their policing than they do in Devon and Cornwall and these precepts would have to be harmonised. We’re exploring various options as to how this might happen.
What’s important now is that people take the opportunity to have their say. Check out the calendar on the website to see the events where my team will be present or fill out the questionnaire at www.futurepolicing.co.uk. There you can find out plenty more about the proposed merger and answer three questions on the plans which will shape the future of policing in your communities.