On Monday (Nov 8) I had the privilege of being able to thank, in person, some of the volunteers who give their time to their communities by linking up with my office.
The volunteer celebration was just becoming established as a routine annual event when Covid-19 struck.
In the last two years the number of volunteers linked into the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has swelled.
And while the pandemic meant work wound down in many areas of life, policing didn’t stop. If anything the new challenges posed by the virus created more work.
In the first lockdowns councillor advocates – local authority members who have signed up to create greater links with policing - played a really important role in letting their friends, neighbours and constituents know what was going on with travel restrictions and local enforcement.
While the fight against the pandemic raged the number of councillor advocates grew from under 100 to more than 360. More of these are having regular meetings with their neighbourhood policing team to resolve challenges together.
At Monday’s thank you event we heard about the link Cllr Mike Joyce, one of the early sign-ups to the scheme, had forged with the town’s neighbourhood inspector, David Hammond.
As in many communities, speeding and antisocial behaviour are high on the list of items this duo are working together to solve.
Mike is among volunteers who put their hand up to help scrutinise the police force, volunteering to take part in a formal scrutiny panel as part of a process to improve Community Speedwatch – which itself uses community-minded people to tackle dangerous driving across Devon and Cornwall.
We also heard from Plymouth councillor Maddi Bridgeman, who worked with her local policing team to reassure residents and update them on police progress during a spate of crimes. She also volunteered her time to hand out Victim Care leaflets in the aftermath of the terrible Keyham shootings of August 12.
Independent Custody Visiting is another scheme run by me that engages people who are willing to give their time for the public good. This programme, which most people won’t have heard about, involves unannounced checks on custody facilities to ensure detainees are being treated properly and have access to everything they are entitled to. It has been running since the 1980s and provides the force with a great deal of assurance. It is, however, far from the most glamorous of jobs.
In the summer custody visitors faced a highly unusual challenge when the Cornwall hosted the G7 group of world leaders and new temporary custody facilities were set up. It was a challenge answered wholeheartedly by these public-spirited individuals.
Also present were lived experience volunteers. My office has a policy of involving service users in developing and improving the services that we offer. These people have frequently been victim of, or affected by, a crime and give their time to ensure that others will benefit from their experience.
Covid-19 may have created extra pressures and demands for these volunteers, and it also meant that we could not meet up last year as we did in 2019, so being able to thank, face to face, these selfless individuals, who come from all walks of life and from across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, was a truly humbling experience.
If you want to find out more about my office’s work with volunteers, or understand police volunteering better, visit devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk/take-part.