On a visit to Okehampton police station last summer – it reopens to the public this week
The police enquiry office at the Barton Road station shut up shop on October 31, 2014, as part of a force-wide review into public contact.
The changes, before I became Commissioner, might have been necessary at the time to save the force some money but in my opinion they did not come without cost. I think a two-way dialogue between emergency services and the people they serve is absolutely essential if we the public are to have confidence in them.
Analysis by the force and my office suggests that most residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly support more investment in this project and an accessible face-to-face policing service delivered through an inquiry office hugely improves confidence in local policing.
Interestingly the data tells us that the age groups who most appreciate this service are the 16-24 year olds and those aged over 65.
Research also shows that public confidence in policing increases if people have had recent contact with an officer or member of police. And seasoned detectives have told my office that intelligence received informally over the front desk of a police station has proved invaluable in helping to put a case together to catching serious criminals.
As well as being places that crimes can be reported as an alternative to the 101 non emergency service, stations with front desks are hubs for the distribution of information on the support I commission for victims of crime and crime prevention advice.
It is for these reasons that three years ago I embarked on the most ambitious programme of Police Enquiry Office reopenings in the country. Starting with Newquay in 2020, a total of 17 front desks will be created under the project, taking the total number of PEOs across the force area to 27. This is a huge project which involves my estates team, the force’s training and development team, and engagement with local authorities and community groups.
This financial year alone front desks in Devonport, Looe, Okehampton, Kingsbridge, Ilfracombe and Honiton are being reopened, creating another 17 part time jobs in these communities for police enquiry officers.
Initially, while staff are being trained, the front desks are opening for a few days at a time, but by March all will be open six days a week.
This is not an approach which has been taken elsewhere in the country, with data published in the Daily telegraph this week indicating a 20 per cent reduction in police stations across 26 forces between 2015 and 2023.
Already fully open across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which has the smallest custody centre in the force, are the stations I opened in previous years and those which never shut their doors (a full list and opening times is available on the force website here).
Work is under way to identify the remaining four locations I intend to invest in from April. There must be an operational rationale for a front desk and each project must be financially feasible. The Chief Constable and I are now listening to the voices of communities where people think a police station will really make a difference, and taking professional advice on the matter from within the force.
My vision is for face-to face contact with the force to be an option for everyone in our force area, so ensuring there is an even spread of stations across rural, coastal and urban areas is a must.
In a month or so I will embark on a tour of the stations reopened this year, to meet members of the community, the new recruits and the staff who have worked so hard to make this project a reality. Until then I would urge residents of towns with a newly reopened station in it to check in, say hello and discuss any crime or antisocial behaviour concerns they might have in their neighbourhoods.