'Looking forward to a year when we hit record police officer numbers'

Devon and Cornwalls Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez . Picture: OPCC

PCC Alison Hernandez is preparing to make her decision over the council tax precept - Credit: Archant

Last week I reflected on another extraordinary year in policing and crime prevention. This week, in my first column of 2022, thoughts naturally turn to the year ahead.

We know some of the challenges we’re likely to face - Covid 19 will continue to impact upon criminal activity, policing and mental health, we are once again likely to see a summer full of tourists that, while boosting the economies of Devon and Cornwall, raises issues about how we police what is the largest force area in England.

Another certainty, and a fact I warmly welcome, is that Devon and Cornwall Police will have a budget in the next financial year that enables it to have record strength in police officers.

Budgeted officer numbers in the current financial year stand at 3,422. In recent weeks the Home Office confirmed that we would receive national uplift monies that will allow us to add another 188 officers in 2022/23. 

Our proportion of the national uplift announced by the Prime Minister, when coupled with the uplift that was already being funded through your police council tax precept, will mean officer numbers will be due to hit 3,610 in the financial year from April 2022 – 110 more than Devon and Cornwall’s previous high of 3,500 in 2009/10.

Of course, much of this would have been impossible without the continued support of Devon and Cornwall residents who recognised that more police officers were required and who told me, on the doorstep and via market research, that they would ‘pay more to get more’.

It also would not have been possible without an incredibly hard-working Devon and Cornwall Police training team. 

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Many thousands of new officers have to be trained to add to force strength as in any large organisation, a certain number of people leave or retire each year; so the training team have been extremely busy, creatively working around Covid restrictions that would have caused less resilient organisations to shut up shop.

The fact that we are about to see record police officer numbers is to be welcomed, but it does not mean we can stand easy. 

Policing is a team effort and there are equally essential police staff roles which are both on the front line and supporting it to make it effective. The Chief Constable and I have significant challenges ahead if we want to maintain the force area as one of the safest in the country. County lines drug dealing, domestic abuse and the impact of poor mental health will keep everyone we employ busy.

There are financial hurdles to overcome too. The national uplift monies we receive from central Government might pay for more officers, but they do not cover the pay rises these officers will require in the years ahead. 

Other costs will go up too. Inflation is likely to affect all our household outgoings and the force will feel – things like the rise and rise of the diesel price will take a significant bite out of our budget in the next 12 months.

And demand for police help is ever increasing.

The Chief Constable and I therefore want to use 2022 to strengthen, stabilise and sustain an organisation that has seen significant change in recent months.

Yes, the force has more officers, but we need to ensure that their presence is felt by the communities they serve.

One initiative that may help with this ambition is the pilot project to reopen Tiverton Police Station, in Mid Devon, to the public a day a week. We want to see if this building can be repurposed to serve as a community safety hub – dispensing valuable advice and driving greater links between the town’s neighbourhood policing team, residents, traders and local volunteers. 

If successful, more of those stations that closed their public front desks a decade ago may be suitable for the same treatment.

This activity and much more will be linked to the police budget for 2022/23. The Chief Constable’s team and mine are putting the finishing touches to this piece of work, and I now need to decide what rate to set the next year’s precept at. 

Currently, band D households in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly pay £236.56 a year (or £23.65 a month in 10 monthly instalments) towards policing through their council tax bill. I will be taking my proposals to the Police and Crime Panel at the end of January 2022.

I have the flexibility to put this up by a further £10 a year and am currently seeking your views on whether you think Devon and Cornwall Police represents value for money and what your spending priorities might be. 

To influence this please take five minutes to complete the survey by visiting my website, www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk, and following the links.

Your views always inform my decision making so please take the time to let me know what you think. 

As we pIan for a challenging yet potentially rewarding 2022 I wish you all a happy and safe new year.