Previous Councillor Advocate seminars where the drone team presented
The coronavirus epidemic has been disastrous for anyone trying to arrange an event this summer. Putting the health of our communities first has to be our priority but I have certainly missed getting together with others face to face to hear what has been going on in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The easing of the lockdown did enabled me to get on the road recently to see how the Safer Summer Scheme is making a difference. This is helping neighbourhood policing teams by providing extra resource in the form of street marshals for some visitor hotspots around the Westcountry.
I’ve been to beaches and urban centres in Cornwall, North Devon, Exeter and South Devon, and in the next few weeks will be visiting other areas where this investment of up to £500,000 is making a difference at our busiest time of year.
So far, though, we have been unable to physically host councillor advocate seminars. These events are for the local authority elected councillors who have signed up to the scheme that was an essential part of my plan to better connect local communities to their neighbourhood policing teams and Devon and Cornwall police in general.
The scheme links councillors to their neighbourhood inspector, as well as to my office, so that that any challenges can be understood and tackled on both practical and strategic levels. It’s started honest two-way conversations between police officers and people who are committed to their communities that were not always there before. The scheme also delivers consistent and accurate information on crime and disorder to local communities via their advocates.
Four times a year we invited Councillor Advocates to seminars where they were given a real insiders’ guide to policing. They have toured the contact centre to understand what life was like for a call handler, visited firearms teams, saw police dog training in action and were given a thorough briefing on the efforts that are being made to combat county lines drug dealing gangs.
There were some real practical successes too. The scheme was used to take a model of community engagement that was created by police officers in Truro and replicate it in two locations in Devon.
Covid-19, however, meant seminars could not take place. Rather than put the scheme on hold we decided to use the lockdown to further drive it forward using digital means. Councillors have been sent more regular email updates so they can keep their communities informed, we started a podcast which over the weeks has featured the Chief Constable, the Deputy Chief Constable, the head of the Summer Policing, the manager in charge of setting up Neighbourhood Watch and others.
Community Engagement Worker Mick Harrison, a retired police officer working as part of my office, has been concentrating on increasing the membership of the councillor advocate scheme, which in a few weeks has grown from under 100 members to 202 by last Friday (31 July).
This is great news for policing, who now have more than 100 extra helpful volunteers in local authorities who have a fuller understanding of their neighbourhood issues, it’s great news for communities, who have another avenue of contact with their local policing teams and it’s great news for me, as it helps me keep informed of community views across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, so I can effectively hold the Chief Constable to account for policing.
Yes, there are still challenges. The scheme has much greater uptake in Devon than in Cornwall and there is much greater connectivity between police and councillor advocates in some areas than in others.
I am, however, completely committed to driving this project further and have set the target of signing up another 98 by the end of the year to give us 300 councillor advocates in 2021.
We also want to do more with those advocates who want to take on a greater role. Not all advocates can come to seminars or give hours of their time. Some are content just to receive the information and use my office as a conduit for information from the force, and that’s fine.
I do think there is an additional role for those who want to give more.
When life gets back to normal our community engagement will get back up and running. I can imagine some of our more enthusiastic advocates helping out on community safety days, helping to set up Community Speedwatch schemes where there is concern about road safety and assisting local businesses in crime prevention.
So if you are a councillor, whether that’s local authority, parish or town councillor, and you’d like to hear more about the scheme or help us hit our target, or a resident of the force area who would like their local authority to get involved, you can find out more about the scheme on my website.
Anyone can also sign up to our ‘Neighbourhood Alert’ email which will advise them about policing and community safety regularly throughout the year. How to do this is explained on the website under ‘News/Newsletter’. We are the safest area in the country to live, so let’s work together to keep it that way and stay safe, resilient and connected.