In the last few weeks the Chief Constable and I have finalised plans for the next Devon and Cornwall Police budget.
This is one of a Police and Crime Commissioner’s most important duties and is always challenging. We must take into account a whole variety of factors, such as emerging new crimes and threats to our communities, as well as new legislative demands and the implications on staff, officers and, most importantly, the people we serve.
My role is to represent the voice of the people of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and balance their desire for extra investment against the implications of raising the policing element of council tax.
My decision this year has been helped by the most rigorous annual survey of people’s priorities conducted by my office to date. Thousands of you responded to my request to complete a questionnaire which asked about your community and your concerns.
Then volunteers from all backgrounds took part in phone interviews where the actual budget proposals for the 2021-22 financial year were tested.
I’d like to thank all of those who took part in this year’s survey and assure them that I have read the results carefully and applied them to my decision.
What is clear is that visible neighbourhood policing, something that Devon and Cornwall Police has prided itself on for decades, requires more investment. Of the 4,130 people to take part in the main survey 94% wanted investment in crime prevention, 87% in visible policing and 86% in community-based crime prevention.
In total budget plans will enable the force to recruit an extra 232 frontline staff between April this year and next.
Over the course of my term so far Devon and Cornwall police officer numbers have risen by 317, the next budget would see a further 40 neighbourhood officers, on top of 141 paid for by the national police uplift, added to force strength. That would bring total officer numbers in the force area to 3,422, the highest level for a decade.
The proposals will also enable 22 more staff to be recruited into contact centres to speed up response times to the 101 non emergency contact number. Scrutiny work by my office tells me that too many people are waiting too long to get through when then need to speak to someone because call volumes have risen significantly in recent years.
I also want more criminals to face justice and propose a budget that will include 29 additional investigators to ensure cases are dealt with in a timely manner.
This investment also includes provision for eight professional standards staff to guard against long-running investigations into employees or officers, will fund a project to significantly improve police data and provide equipment for a new drone team to help search for vulnerable missing people and to gather intelligence.
I also want to boost efforts to collaborate with other emergency services to provide yet more uniformed presence in towns and villages and expand the role of volunteer Special Constables, who received payments for the first time as part of the force’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I believe this investment in people, both to be present in our streets and to be on the end of a phone or email when there is a call for help, will stop more crime before it happens and make our communities even safer than they are at present.
I also believe that our existing officers and staff, who have worked so admirably for our communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, deserve the support that will reduce their workloads and stress levels.
Unfortunately, good quality policing does not come cheap. The proposed additional expenditure would mean an increase to the police precept equating to £14.92 extra for a Band D household per year.
I do not propose these increases lightly but in the knowledge that they will result in a real policing presence that I know our communities remain supportive of and one that will help the force maintain its position as having the second lowest crime rate of 43 force areas in England and Wales.
The full proposals, my survey results and report into 101 scrutiny are available to view on the website of Plymouth City Council, which hosts the Police and Crime Panel which is made up of councillors from around the peninsula who scrutinise my decisions.
If you would like to further understand my role in policing and a budget that is firmly based around investment in people and our communities then please tune in to the live stream of the meeting, which at 10.30am this Friday (February 5).