Commissioner ups spending on people by £3 million
You can always tell when an election looms – expect the “filling of potholes” and “papering over the cracks” generally accompanied by fanfares. Owl
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Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner has set out her plans for the next financial year beginning in April, a month before elections which will decide whether she stays in the job.
Alison Hernandez says her proposals will marry a traditional neighbourhood policing approach with significant investment in modern technology.
The draft budget contains funding for 40 additional neighbourhood officers, building on a programme of recruitment that has already seen 317 officers added to force strength since the Commissioner’s term began in 2014 and bringing officer numbers to a 10-year high.
In addition 22 staff would be added to force contact centres to improve 101 response times, 29 investigators would be recruited to bring more criminals to justice and eight staff would be hired to speed up professional standards investigations.
The commissioner also wants to boost efforts to collaborate with other emergency services to provide 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.
The investment in people would represent an additional £3 million on the annual budget of policing Devon and Cornwall. It would be supported by an investment of £1.1 million to bring police technology up to date, ensuring that officers and staff had speedy access to high-quality secure data and enabling the creation of a new drone team to help search for vulnerable missing people and gather intelligence.
The proposed investment comes after consecutive annual surveys by the commissioner’s office showed significant support for additional investment in prevention, neighbourhood policing and police technology. The investment in more people for the non-emergency 101 contact centre comes after scrutiny work by the commissioner’s office found that average call handling times into 101 had increased because of growing call complexity and volume.
The Commissioner said recruiting more officers had been a priority for her since she came to office, but there was an opportunity in the next financial year to also invest in technology to ensure they were supported by high quality data.
“The national uplift in officer numbers, in addition to the proposed increases for next year, will bring budgeted police officer numbers to 3,422, their highest level for a decade,” she said.
“The cost of funding the 40 additional officers will be met later in the financial year, as they are recruited, giving the force an opportunity to invest in a new suite of technology to bring extra efficiency to its activities.
“One of the most fundamental purposes of policing is the prevention of crime, and of the 4,130 people to take part in my recent surveys 94% wanted investment in crime prevention, 88% in visible policing and 86% in community-based crime prevention.
“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.”
The proposed additional expenditure would mean an increase to the police precept – the element of the council tax bill that helps fund policing – equating to £14.92 extra for a Band D household.
“Good quality policing that is fit for the future requires real investment,” Commissioner Hernandez said. “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.”
The scrutiny of the 101 non-emergency contact service recommends a series of steps to be taken by the Chief Constable to reduce waiting times. This includes considering the potential reintroduction of a triage service at periods of long waiting times, a return to a 10-minute waiting time service standard, the speeding up of technology investments which will most help callers and an increase in staffing to help improve waiting times.
The Commissioner said: “The work carried out by our scrutiny panel, which included members of the public, elected members and Victim Support, has looked in particular at how the new 101 system introduced in the second half of 2019 was working for the public. There are a number of key challenges affecting the service, including the continued growth in volume of contacts and the complexity of those contacts, but improvements need to be made.”
The Commissioner’s proposals will be presented to the next meeting of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel at 10.30am on Friday, February 5.
The meeting is hosted by Plymouth City Council. Full budget proposals and the commissioner’s 101 scrutiny report can be found online on the council’s website http://www.plymouth.gov.uk.