Who do people contact if there’s something they want to discuss about policing in their neighbourhood? The experience of the last two years shows me that it will probably be their local Police and Crime Commissioner.
In Sussex I have, on average, three people contacting my office every hour compared to the three a week received by the former Police Authority. That’s 5,856 more individuals each year expressing their concerns and ideas about local policing and crime issues and demonstrating just how disconnected they used to feel from the previous governance arrangements, and this number continues to grow.
A BBC poll conducted by ComRes to coincide with my first year in office, showed that over 60 per cent of people in the South East now know they have a Police & Crime Commissioner, compared to just seven per cent who knew there was a local Police Authority. It’s not just the public who were largely oblivious to Police Authorities… a former Chief Constable recently told a Parliamentary Select Committee that he had served with several Police Authority Chairs but could not recall any of their names.
360 degree engagement: The correspondence figures for PCC offices count for only a fraction of the interactions PCCs are having every week with local people, local police officers and partners. My own #TalkSussex programme gives residents a chance to discuss any issues or concerns directly with me at local venues like shopping malls, village fetes and supermarkets and includes interactive voting to indicate their policing and crime priorities.
Live and uncut: On a larger scale, I also run a series of ’Community Conversations’ using the Question Time format with a local senior media editor posing topical questions directly to me, the Chief Constable, the local Divisional Commander and a guest, non-police panelist. With each event trailed in local media a month before, crime correspondents and the public have the chance to form searching questions which are put to the panel and live streamed on the night. Attendees are also encouraged to participate via social media using the hashtag #TalkSussex so the dialogue and reach is extended beyond just those present at the event.
I film a regular Vlog with a local newspaper group that is syndicated across its Sussex news sites attracting, on average, 4,000 views every month, to add to the thousands of residents who subscribe to my weekly email newsletter. On my ‘PCC TV’ channel, we upload short films showing the work of community safety and crime prevention initiatives – the fact that the funds we invest locally come from criminal assets seized by the police is particularly satisfying for me and for victims of crime.
Video blogs and live streaming are just some of the new ways of engaging in a continually evolving dialogue with the public. PCC’s accessibility is rejuvenating the relationship between the public and their police force. In Sussex, my monthly Performance and Accountability Meetings with the Chief Constable are webcast live, attracting over 8,000 views and are tweeted live by my office and also by Sussex Police using the hashtag #SusPolScrutiny.
Recommendations become reality: It’s not just about talk and engagement. The Sussex Youth Commission I set up has attracted national attention and praise from Ministers, MPs and experts in criminology and youth engagement. This innovative approach has also been piloted in Hampshire and Leicestershire and gives young people, including those not yet old enough to vote, a voice.
In Sussex, it has seen 28 members aged 14-25 years from very diverse backgrounds, record over 2,000 conversations with young people on five key priorities: drug and alcohol abuse; reducing offending and re-offending; domestic abuse and sexual assault; cyber-bullying; and the relationship between police and young people. The Sussex Youth Commission’s findings have been welcomed by the Chief Constable and one of the members’ ideas – to set up a Youth Independent Advisory Group – is now working alongside a dedicated team of senior police officers to implement recommendations bringing real changes in police attitudes and behaviour. See the infographic summarizing their work.
Real performance improvement: One of my Police and Crime Plan priorities is to reduce the recorded crimes per 1000 population. A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) shows a 3% reduction in overall crime in Sussex over the past year with house burglary down by 14%. HMIC also noted reductions in anti-social behavior with more people confident to report it and highlighted the way that domestic abuse (DA) is being tackled by Sussex Police.
Real help where it’s needed: Domestic abuse incidents are now dealt with by specialist officers and I have invested in the recruitment of new DA case workers to support victims and investigations. HMIC referenced examples of how victims in Sussex feel able to provide evidence leading to successful prosecutions. Encouraging people to report domestic abuse to the police can be even harder within some ethnic minority communities so I am also providing funding for 16 police officers to be trained as specialist Harmful Traditional Practices investigators (covering FGM, Honour-Based Violence and Forced Marriage) to help build trust and more frequent reporting. Furthermore, I aim to give DA victims extra reassurance by supplying GPS-tracked phones with a 24-hour line to the police, which people can activate whenever they feel threatened, intimidated or at risk.
The business of policing: Often coming from business or non-police backgrounds, the 2012 intake of PCCs have injected a fresh perspective and a new energy into police governance, shining a critical light on tired processes. With responsibility for maintaining an efficient and effective police force, PCCs have been at the cutting edge of recent cost-saving programmes. Cross-border collaboration on operational policing will realise savings and cross-party groups of PCCs are working together on standards, ethics and exploiting technology to maintain British policing as world-class.
Collaboration + innovation = service & savings: Recent collaboration by Sussex, Surrey & Thames Valley PCCs on the provision of services to crime victims, shows the scale of savings that can achieved locally and potentially nationally. Through the new framework agreement Sussex alone will save around £300,000 across the life of the three-year contract for locally managed services. With 23 other PCC areas also expressing an interest in our framework, this could mean that nearly 60% of the total population in England and Wales will have access to quality assured victims’ services that are tailored to local needs. For the first time ever, this victim contract will be managed locally by me with measurable outcomes for performance.
Visible, accessible and accountable: Despite just two years into office, the speed with which PCCs have developed real traction locally makes any return to Police Authority anonymity feel like a giant leap backwards. Why drag police accountability, performance and efficiency back into the shadows when clearly the model is working.