A report on Devon and Cornwall Police – no photo of Alison Hernandez!

Unusual of her to miss an opportunity – Owl

Police in Devon and Cornwall at “creaking” point over lack of Officers

Olivier Vergnaul www.cornwalllive.com

There are not enough police officers to do the job, which is why the system is creaking and crime prioritisation might have to take place, a high-ranking police union official has warned. Andy Berry, the chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, believes there is so much demand on the force in our two counties that it is outstripping capacity.

As a result of the increased pressure on the under-resourced police force, members of the public are losing faith in the police while officers are at breaking point, he said. He said he has never seen the service in such a dire situation in his time as an officer. Speaking to BBC Radio Devon he said: “Everything is creaking. Not only is that service failure for the public but it is breaking officers because they are working themselves inside out, desperate to do a good job, and feel, in themselves, that they are failing.

“I have been in this role for four years, a police officer for 29 years and I’ve never seen so many inspectors, chief inspectors and superintendents coming to me and say this stuff. These are the people that are running the force and are close enough at the front end to see what is happening, or what is not happening.”

It comes as a rising number of police officers are leaving the force or feeling under strain for both their mental and physical health as a lack of resources makes them feel angry and frustrated for not being able to do their job properly. Mr Berry added: “We will have more officers in Devon and Cornwall by the end of the uplift – which will be sometime next year – but we will have fewer officers per 100,000 members of the public than a decade ago. We are not even keeping up with population rise, let alone the changes in crime.

“As a police force we try to prioritise everything, get to every call and try to provide the best service that we possibly can. But there aren’t enough people to go to the crimes and investigate the crimes. The chief constable needs to take some radical decisions and maybe, for a temporary period of time, say we won’t go to certain things, maybe not focus as much on certain crime types.

“A lot of energy goes into the low level possession of drugs. Maybe we should reduce that. Maybe the chief constable should think about stopping our neighbourhood team – the very visible part of policing, that do an immense amount of good work – maybe they should stop for a period of time to enable us to do the basics. It’s got to the stage where there needs to be that debate.”

He said that perhaps it is time the public are consulted on what they want their local police force to concentrate on. Mr Berry added: “Should the police concentrate on serious crime; rapes and domestic abuse and bringing those perpetrators to justice, or respond to urgent 999 calls quickly so they are getting there faster than they are now? Or do they want us to keep on spreading the jam really thinly?”

A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesperson agreed that officers’ workloads can be stressful and this can result in workplace pressures. He added: “Leaders in the force acknowledge these issues and the stressful work that our officers and staff do – it is a job like no other.

“Within Devon and Cornwall Police we are proactively recruiting. As of March, Devon and Cornwall police has recruited 281 additional uplift officers. The force has been allocated a further 188 officers for the final year of the programme. Funding for Devon and Cornwall Police increased by £20 million from around £356m in last year to £375m this year.

“We are doing everything possible to support officers and all of our staff in managing the impact of work on their physical and mental wellbeing. We remain committed to supporting officers and staff in helping them provide a sustainable, resilient and high-quality service to the public with the resources that we have.”

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, added: “I recognise many of the pressures that police officers, staff and volunteers are under. It is one of the reasons that, with the assistance of our communities, we started the uplift in officer numbers before central Government announced it would fund a national uplift.

“It takes time to recruit and train officers but Devon and Cornwall Police is now starting to feel the effects of this historic investment in policing. This year it will have 686 more officers than it did when I came to office and more police officers than at any other time in its history.

“We must not rest though. So many calls for help from the police should have been heard before people reached crisis point. Other agencies must do their bit to ensure that more of our residents are assisted before police have to become involved.”