In the next few weeks every household in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will receive a leaflet from my office explaining how much they will be paying, via their council tax bill, for policing in the 2020/21 financial year.
Last year we saw an unprecedented rise in the bill, of £24 a year for a band D property, in return for a package of measures that included recruiting an additional 85 more police officers.
This year a more modest increase, of £9.36, will mean the police and my office will be able to fund a number of innovative measures designed to make our communities even safer. Most households in the area will see a smaller increase because they are bands A to C.
I say ‘even safer’ because we already have less recorded crime than all but two of 43 force areas in England and Wales. Only Gloucestershire and North Yorkshire have fewer crimes committed per 1,000 people according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report.
So why invest even more public money in policing?
Raising the precept is not a decision I have taken lightly. However, there is still work to be done.
We know from the most extensive survey my office has undertaken – which 8,875 of you took part in, that our communities want to see more money invested in the areas of crime prevention and in their neighbourhoods.
Two elements of the next year’s budget will go some way to addressing these demands. The allowance of £1m to set up the first Violent Crime Prevention Centre and £500,000 for further collaboration with other emergency services.
We also know that although crime in our part of the country is relatively low, there is cause for concern around violence.
Those ONS figures, for the year to September 2019, showed increases in domestic abuse (8%), possession of drugs offences (17%) and robbery (21%). Possession of weapons was up 24%, although from a low base, it accounts for less than 1% of total recorded crime.
In general we can say that most of us are becoming safer over time, although for a small number of people the chance of being robbed or assaulted is rising. There is a compelling body of evidence to suggest that people exposed to violence, particularly in childhood, become more likely to be both the victims of violence and the perpetrators of it in later life. These early experiences can have ‘cascading and damaging effects’ throughout someone’s life, according to researchers.
We cannot stand by and allow this to happen.
The Chief Constable and I believe this is something we can address. By breaking the cycle of violence not only do we reduce the impact of crime on our communities, we give people the chance to lead productive and fulfilled lives. Ultimately this will reduce pressure on the police, local authorities and the third sector, so we all benefit.
Key to this will be the leadership of both the Chief Constable and I. We do not expect police officers to be working on this as they will be on the frontline, tackling violence as it happens but we will be working alongside people who have experience of violent crime, our community, researchers and partners to identify the early factors of violent offenders and put effective intervention in place.
We all say prevention is better than cure, but we never get round to putting our money where our mouth is, and this investment is going to make a real difference.
As with so many other areas of public safety, working together is key to creating safe and prosperous communities. Over the past few weeks Community Responders have been completing their training. This is a new role combining the powers of a firefighter and a police officer – each patrols a community within five minutes of their station in case of a fire ‘shout’. They are operating in seven Devon towns while we have 10 Tri-Service Safety Officers in Cornwall through a collaboration with the fire service, the region’s ambulance trust and the police.
The strength of these schemes is that the Community Responders and Tri-Service Safety Officers are tied to specific communities. They become familiar with the challenges in each area and can work with local residents, councils and other agencies to effect change over time.
Along with the 27 additional neighbourhood officers – one for every sector in the force area – that were paid for through last year’s rise in the precept, these ‘blue light’ collaborations are, I believe, an essential part of the mix when it comes to policing an area as challenging as Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
That is why the budget contains allowance for a significant investment in this area.
I realise that even modest rises in taxation are not universally welcomed. But the tangible benefits of previous rises are there for all to see in our communities, where more officers are better equipped and better connected than they have been in years. It is my job to ensure that the next round of spending is equally as effective and reassuring for the people we serve.
If you want to keep up with the latest news from my office then please sign up to Neighbourhood Alert via my website devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk. There you will also be able to work out how much your police precept will be for the next financial year.