In recent weeks Middlemoor has been ringing to the sound of marching as a fresh batch of new recruits prepare for their passing out parades.
Proud families will be invited to police headquarters to see their loved ones embark on exciting, yet demanding new careers. These days a modern police force needs people from all backgrounds, some have degrees, some are from an armed forces background and others I’ve talked to have swapped a seat in a call centre for a place on the front line.
There’s one thing all of them have in common – a dedication to public service and a desire to take on what can be a very challenging but rewarding vocation.
In the past year I’ve worked with the Chief Constable on a plan to increase police officer numbers to 3,015 across the two counties. Our training college is working overtime to deliver these extra officers but I want to go further – much further.
The demands on and public expectation of our policing family have increased significantly in recent years, and the effects central government austerity are being felt in police stations from Penzance to Ilfracombe.
Partly that’s because of new and emerging threats to our safety. According to the Office of National Statistics people are now 10 times more likely to be the victim of an internet fraud than they are a physical theft, and 35 times more likely to be scammed in this way than be the victim of a robbery. This means resources to fight and raise awareness of new crimes has to be found. Unfortunately these growing threats don’t mean rates of ‘traditional’ crimes have reduced.
This summer is bringing additional pressures. For example, a number of police officers from this part of the world have been called in to help with President Trump’s visit in a week where Devon & Cornwall’s population has swollen considerably by holidaymakers, meaning extra work for officers in coastal communities and traffic cops. This also means fewer rest days and annual leave taken to fulfil the national requests.
There are World Cup matches which the force has to prepare for (although thankfully the impact of this incredible tournament has been negligible so far) and the hot weather means our force control room is extremely busy.
Two such incidents of crimes that people feel their local police are neglecting caught my eye recently. Vandals tore out dozens of plants in Torquay’s Italian Gardens and a similar incident happened in a Sidmouth parks. I hear about similar issues across the force area. A common gripe is that people hardly ever see a police officer or PCSO.
The force is right to prioritise the fight against serious and organised crime and violent crime, but we must also focus on good community policing. We’re rightly proud of having invented that model here in Devon and Cornwall, and it’s my job to ensure it is resourced properly.
That’s why I want Middlemoor to ring to the sound of more trainee officers’ boots and for these officers to be deployed in towns, villages and cities across our community in Devon and Cornwall. It’s in the creation of a new force for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly we will have the opportunity to do something special. To create a force that is fit for future policing, one that does not creak at the first sign of strain, one that is responsive, sustainable and connected to the communities it serves.
I don’t want a one-off Government grant to fund this for a year or so but a commitment from the Home Office that will allow us to put an extra 430 police officers on the streets.
Economies made through our strategic alliance with Dorset Police have already meant we’ll save £65m of public money through efficiencies over nine years to 2024.
But it’s the real cash opportunities through a full merger that will achieve what we’re all after – more feet on the street.
Everywhere I go people tell me they want more visible policing. Engagement work carried out by my office shows that 86% of those asked agree that policing needs more investment. A total of 71% of people in Devon and Cornwall said they were prepared to pay more to get more.
Firstly the merger would see just one police and crime commissioner and one chief constable where currently there are two. Streamlining these leadership processes will save an extra £3.2m annually, a sum which could be used to pay for 100 front-line police staff, but I’m concerned that’s not enough.
Secondly I want the harmonisation of the precept, which is £18 higher in Dorset than in Devon and Cornwall, to pay for 330 more front-line officers – that would make a total of 430 across the new force area.
There’s a recognition in the Home Office that we have to ‘do more with more’ and to dramatically increase police officer numbers.
Now’s the chance to have your say again. If you haven’t completed the survey on the proposed merger at www.futurepolicing.org.uk yet then please do. If you want to talk it over with my office or me then please get in touch.
It’s your force, your future and your opinion that matters.