It has been a time like no other for all sorts of reasons. As well as being my first term as Police and Crime Commissioner, it has also seen the Covid pandemic turn all our lives upside down and, as a result, make my term in office a year longer than it usually would be.
While this is something no one could have foreseen, I really feel our office has made the most of this unexpected extension and used it to deliver all sorts of important new projects and services right across Devon and Cornwall.
But let’s start at the beginning. Four years ago, I unveiled my first police and crime plan which committed to creating safe, resilient and connected communities. The story of Devon & Cornwall Police over the last four years has been one of growth, both in terms of demand for its services but also in terms of the funding made available to it and the investments made in officer numbers, collaboration, technology and estates.
Between 2016 and 2021 the force has welcomed an additional 317 officers, as well as 10 Tri-Service Safety Officers who are now serving in rural Cornish communities where none of the three blue light services could justify a full-time employee. In Devon seven Community Responders – firefighters with full police powers – have also been deployed to create safer market towns through a collaboration with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, with four Police & Fire Community Support Officers serving rural north Devon.
As well as adding to the numbers, all our officers have also been better equipped thanks to our roll-out of body-worn video cameras and Tasers for everyone on the frontline.
As the office with responsibility for police estates, we’ve overseen the construction of the award-winning £29-million Exeter Police Station which, I’m happy to say, ranks among the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the UK. We’ve also built a new £2.2 million police station in Liskeard and coordinated Barnstaple Police Station’s swift and effective move to a new, temporary premises – all delivered on time and in budget.
We’ve invested heavily in improving CCTV systems across the region, including St Ives, Wadebridge, Bodmin, Dartmouth, Okehampton and helped enable a £420,000 state-of-the-art system in Torbay.
We’ve set up Safer Towns schemes across Cornwall, launched the Vision Zero South West road safety partnership and initiated the Turning Corners project, a violence prevention programme which helps combat an emerging culture of gangs and knife crime in South Devon by engaging with young people at an early age.
Our office commissioned the Operation Encompass teachers phoneline to help detect domestic abuse, a scheme which won us a World Class Policing award and has since been rolled out nationally.
Our Restorative Justice service won an award from the Howard League for Penal Reform, we trialled payments for special constables in readiness for exploring a Specials Reserve force and we made reporting crime to the police even easier through webchat, online and email.
One of the most significant projects during my first term was the proposed merger with Dorset Police – something I eventually decided not to go ahead with. Our office consulted almost 12,000 people across the three counties and it was clear this was not what they wanted. Speaking with members of the public from all walks of life is something I am extremely passionate about and I’m proud that our team has attended more than 350 events during this term, speaking to tens of thousands of people.
However, when Covid struck in the UK last year, face-to-face contact became impossible - but we didn’t let this stop us from cracking on with our important work.
During the past 12 months we committed £500,000 to tackle antisocial behaviour in 20 hotspots around Devon and Cornwall, which included us being the first force to provide specialist Covid Marshal patrols. We were an early adopter of virtual courts to ensure justice continued to be served during Covid, delivered our Devon Together newspaper to reassure communities during the pandemic and have even sponsored a ground-breaking project which will see prisoners building a prefabricated house for vulnerable residents in Torquay. As well as this, last month we commissioned a £20 million, 10-year contract for Victim Support which will provide 24/7 help both online and over the phone. This is the largest contract issued by any police and crime commissioner outside London.
While I’m extremely proud of my office’s hard work and achievements over the course of this term, there is more to be done if Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are to retain their positions as some of the safest places to live in the country. But whatever happens on May 6, I have been privileged to have played my part in the force’s journey.