Each force was given a target number of officers to hire, with funding to match, and this week the Home Office will tell us which forces have been successful and whether that overall figure has been achieved.
Thankfully Devon and Cornwall Police’s recruitment and training teams were able to apart to the circumstances and recruitment and training pressed ahead throughout the pandemic. Rooms in my office headquarters, Andy Hocking House, were commandeered to supplement the force’s college, and staff rose to the challenge of vetting and training hundreds of officers.
I am pleased to say that Devon and Cornwall Police now has more officers than at any time in its history, with 3,610 patrolling our streets, investigating crime and maintaining Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as one of the safest places to live in the country.
But that achievement is not just down to central Government money. Before then Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his uplift we had embarked on increasing officer numbers here.
Thanks to investment and support from our residents, through their council tax precept, 216 additional officers were funded locally in addition to our national uplift of 470, meaning Devon and Cornwall Police is 686 officers better off now than when I became Commissioner in 2016.
Increasing officer numbers was always a priority for me because the people I speak to still say they don’t see enough officers in their community, and my preferred model of policing relies on neighbourhood policing that was exemplified by PC Andy Hocking (it’s why I named my building after him).
PC Hocking was a much loved officer in Falmouth whose untimely death in March 2015 sparked such a significant outpouring of grief from the community that 6,000 people attended his funeral. Cheerful but firm, he was known in schools, businesses and across his Cornish patch and garnered a reputation as a troubleshooter whose knowledge and attributes made him able to spot problems and deal with them before they escalated.
I am in still very much in touch with PC Hocking’s family, and use him as an example to new recruits of the incredible difference that just one officer can make. We now have an additional 686 potential Andy Hockings to serve our communities - imagine the difference that could make.
Of course, increasing the force’s overall strength means you have to recruit many more officers than your target figure to account for officers reaching the end of their careers and retiring, so I would like to pay tribute to the training and selection staff who have actually welcomed well over 1,000 new officers through our doors in the past three years.
The full effect of this investment has yet to be felt, as some are still in training, but every neighbourhood policing team in Devon and Cornwall now has additional officers, and the increase, combined with the vision and leadership of our new Chief Constable, Will Kerr OBE KPM, means two very important operations, relating to my police and crime plan priorities of tackling drugs and antisocial behaviour, have been possible.
Operation Loki has been running in Torquay, Plymouth, Exeter, Barnstaple, Falmouth and Truro and is using policing tactics including high-visibility patrols, schools prevention activity, traffic operations and community engagement to tackle antisocial behaviour.
And Operation Scorpion, our ongoing collaboration with four other South West forces, saw more than three quarters of a million pounds worth of drugs seized and 121 drugs arrests made during the seven days of raids from 27 March to 2 April.
This policing effort takes time, resources and people, but I am confident our officers, police community support officers and police staff will have the wholehearted support of our communities if they bear down on the issues that matter most to our residents.
I am incredibly privileged to have been able to oversee the uplift, which has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change policing, gain greater public trust and crack down on crime. But the hard work is just beginning, we now need to ensure our communities’ investment generates a significant return.