The reports I receive at headquarters might describe these projects in detail but there is nothing like seeing these stations in their actual location, checking out the improvements made by my estates team and meeting some of the wonderful people who have been hired to be the friendly face of policing in Devon and Cornwall.
After a hectic 48 hours I had two big take-homes. Firstly, the size and challenges of our geography cannot be underestimated. North Cornwall and Mid Devon might not be that far apart as the crow flies, but travelling between them involved windy rural roads and diversions – and that’s before we hit peak visitor season.
Also not to be underestimated was the enthusiasm and support we have from our communities. In Newton Abbot, Penzance, Falmouth, Truro, Bude and Tiverton we were met by local councillors, police and community volunteers and local groups like the Penzance Red Hats who I am sure our new Chief Constable will never forget.
In Falmouth I was delighted to invite the parents of PC Andy Hocking, who did so much before his tragic death to practice a style of community policing that inspired so many and had such an influence on me that I named my office after him. PC Hocking was the embodiment of the visible community presence that we are working to replicate across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – picking up on problems before they escalated.
Those communities and their challenges make me more certain than ever that the investment to reopen these front desks is absolutely necessary. That is why I was so pleased to be able to announce that we will be opening another six front desks, in Devonport (Plymouth), Looe, Ilfracombe, Honiton, Okehampton and Kingsbridge in the next 12 months.
There will be a further four opened in the following 24 months, bringing our total number of front desks across Devon from nine in 2020 to 26 by the time the project is complete.
In addition, Exmouth Police Station in East Devon is being rebuilt and the new stations is to include a functioning front desk.
Some have challenged us as to whether these front desks will be used enough to warrant the investment. I believe they already have. Victims of serious offences have come forward because they have seen their station reopen and communities are coming forward to tell us about crime we did not know about.
New technology is also a game-changer. It means police enquiry staff in these offices can help with electronic communication when not dealing with customers face to face, taking pressure off our 101 and 999 call handlers.
So far £1.5m has been earmarked for investment in the project over two years in which the force overall budget will be close to £700m, and that includes set-up costs.
Connectivity with the public is a cornerstone of my Police and Crime Plans, the Chief Constable and I think face to face contact with the public helps victims and provides a long-term solution to rebuilding confidence in policing.
Thanks to investment from our residents Devon and Cornwall Police now has record police officer numbers. Having accessible police stations close to our communities is the missing part of the jigsaw in providing the neighbourhood model of policing that was invented here.
Coming after a time of isolation as a result of the global pandemic, the reopening of these public enquiry desks represents a reconnection with our communities; we are reopening our doors and providing a safe place for anyone to be able to come to us and ask for help.
Our police enquiry staff are on hand to offer prevention advice and support to victims, so if you have a question for the force why not consider popping in and saying hello?
The stations are accessible to the public six days a week. A full list of enquiry offices and their opening times across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is available on the Devon and Cornwall Police website or via Google.