Thames Valley is the largest non metropolitan Police Force in the UK, and, except for London, the largest one overseen by a Conservative PCC. It encompasses three major counties, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and has a population of 2.3 million. It is a diverse area with major towns and cities such as Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading and Slough, and large rural areas such as the Chilterns, Cotswolds, Lambourn and Berkshire Downs.
Setting a five year policing plan had a number of conflicting priorities, but after consultation I set the protection of vulnerable people, rural crime, and reducing household burglary as the most important.
In Oxford we had a serious issue with the sexual exploitation of young girls by a largely Pakistani gang, and so the protection of vulnerable young girls became a major priority. The arrest, conviction and jailing for long terms of the perpetrators was paralleled by the setting up of Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with Berkshire’s hubs being planned for 2015.
More than 25 extra officers were put into combating child sexual abuse, and a number of convictions and on going cases have resulted. It is clear that this is a major issue for Police Forces nationally, but I am confident that Thames Valley Police is leading on this.
Rural crime was a constant complaint before I became PCC. It was not a minor crime of pilfering and poaching. It was the wide scale theft of heavy plant and machinery from the countryside, intimidation, metal theft, illegal use of firearms, cattle and sheep rustling offences, people trafficking and slavery.
All committed by a number of serious organised crime groups. It is now being dealt with, and the NFU claims dropped by 19 per cent last year, whereas the national claims went up by five per cent, so something is being achieved. It has certainly made the police a great deal more popular amongst the rural communities.
Household burglary is always an issue. In the last two years a number of measures have been taken and it has been reduced by over 60 per cent in some of our major towns and is down by 40 per cent overall to a forty year low.
Not all is well however. Fraud and cyber crime is expanding fast, but is largely dealt with at a national level. I have concerns that we do not have either the capability or police numbers to deal with this properly. Sexual offences are also up, though this is in large part thanks to much better reporting, a far more positive police attitude, and the historic cases coming up as a result of the Saville enquiries.
Violence and shop lifting are largely caused by alcohol and drugs. The former is largely up to Councils to control the late night economy, The latter is down to the police, social services, and control over our borders to prevent the importation of class a drugs.
Overall the crime we measure is down to a 25 year low. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has stated that TVP had about the greatest drop in crime of any Force in the country over the last three years. This has been achieved during a period when we have taken 20 per cent out of our budget, a saving of nearly £60M. I do have concerns that ongoing cuts will result in a much smaller police force dealing with a much larger population. Technology helps, but in the end it is policemen who prevent crime, and who bring to justice those that commit it.