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We’ve come a long way in the past 10 years

In her latest blog, Alison reflects on how policing has changed and talks about the #InvestingInPolice campaign.

Last Friday (10 Jan) I appeared on Radio Devon to discuss how policing has changed over the last decade. At times it feels like progress in improving and reforming policing moves slowly. However, when you look back at what policing, the criminal justice system and victim services looked like in 2010 you realise we’re working very differently now.

A decade ago austerity hit not only the police, but also partners in health and local authorities as the Government grappled with the challenge of balancing the books.

Police numbers dropped significantly - from a high of 3,500 officers in 2009/10 to a low of 2,924 in 2016/17. Through the support of our communities we have started to rebuild force strength. Since I came to office in 2016 we’ve added 126 new officers, and the recently announced national uplift will see it return to a historic high levels by 2023. We have also collaborated with other blue light services to put Tri-Service Safety Officers and Community Responders into communities where perhaps it was felt there was an absence of ‘bobbies on the beat’.

Perhaps the largest change came to the way police forces were governed. The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012 was intended to create an accountable individual who the public could choose to support or remove. PCCs are a vast improvement on the faceless, bureaucratic and expensive police authorities that came before them. A survey last May showed that 71% of residents of Devon and Cornwall know about my role – so in terms of visibility it seems to be working.

PCCs enable people of all walks of life the ability to influence the strategic direction of the police force and fight for our region in a way that police authorities just did not. Our #InvestingInPolice campaign, for example, has engaged Westminster politicians with the challenges we face in the South West, where visitor numbers and isolation combine to pose some real problems.

Another example of PCCs making a difference was the decision to press ahead with long overdue estates modernisation which will see two new police stations opening this spring, one in Cornwall (Liskeard) and another in Devon (Exeter).

It’s not just changes to police governance that have taken place. The force itself, and the communities that it seeks to protect, have altered more than you might think since 2009.

Comparing figures too closely is tricky, because of improvements to the way in which the police force collects data, but there are some clear crime trends over the past decade.

Domestic abuse related crime has risen dramatically. This is probably because of a greater awareness of the issue and the fact that people have more faith that the police will take these matters seriously. Perhaps also there has been a breakdown in the social stigma that used to surround ‘domestic’ incidents.

Worryingly this could be linked to an increase in violent crime. In 2009 the largest type of recorded crime was criminal damage, in 2019 it was violence without injury, which there has been a huge rise in the reporting of. Included in this figure are new trends like online abuse. Violence with injury has also increased, although this should be seen in the context of an overall reduction in crime.

Fortunately our police officers are better equipped to deal with these challenges. Devon and Cornwall Police was the first force in the country to offer all its officers Tasers if they chose to carry them.

My office funded body worn video for all police officers and Police Community Support Officers and Special Constables. This gives offenders nowhere to hide and captures vital evidence, making convictions quick and more likely.

Devon and Cornwall was also the first force to have a dedicated drone unit – providing a cost-effective eye-in-the-sky for everything from policing football matches to searching for vulnerable missing people.

Care for victims has also improved beyond recognition since it became the responsibility of police and crime commissioners. Our Victim Care Unit is a professional service, commissioned by my office, offers a range of care and help to help people rebuild their confidence after a crime. It can tap into a network of experts around the region to help people in getting back on their feet. Services like restorative justice now mean that the impact of crime on communities is significantly reduced.

So what will the next decade bring? For me a priority has to be to get Devon and Cornwall the funding it deserves. For too long the formula by which government figures uses to work out the grants it gives to police forces has favoured metropolitan areas instead of predominantly rural areas. Rurality makes fighting crime more challenging, not less, and it’s a case I’ll be making in Westminster until it’s changed.

To keep in touch with the latest news from my office sign up for my newsletter via alerts.dc.police.uk. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @DC_PCC, and Facebook @DCPCC. Please follow and support our #InvestingInPolice campaign on social media.

Alison Hernandez