Many ask what difference Police and Crime Commissioners have made in the two years after taking office. On day one after being elected as Humberside’s Commissioner, having just beaten Lord Prescott I walked into the opulent offices of the previous Police Authority I replaced, it was clear in my mind that if I was going to make a difference to the people of East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, to reduce crime, make our communities safer and improve the quality of services to victims, there would need to be a major sea-change in the way we did business.
I chose to lead by example selling the lavish building I inherited, moving into shared accommodation, and ploughing the money from the sale into community safety projects.
The austerity measures in place to revitalise the economy have forced all public sector organisations to look at how we deliver services. In tough times, necessity is the mother of invention, and is usually when innovation comes to the fore, where bold ideas which at first may seem impossible, can become reality.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which created Commissioners, states:
“PCCs must bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up.”
I was determined to play my part in creating a ‘big team’ to harness the energy and enthusiasm of the public and our community safety partners to find solutions to the problems we face today and in the future.
In early 2013 I appointed a new Chief Constable, Justine Curran, an officer with an outstanding record who I consider to be a Chief for the 21st Century. I gave her one performance goal, to reduce overall crime. No more chasing figures, I want discretion and common sense to be the guiding principles of our officers, not statistics. The freedom to do the right thing for the public at the time, even when it’s not the way things have always been done.
I asked the Chief to redesign the force to deliver the service required by our residents with the money we have available. To start afresh with a blank sheet of paper, with the needs of the public at the heart of everything we do. She has not let me down, looking at practices found elsewhere (including in the private sector), consulting with staff, listening to their opinions and implementing the most ambitious change programme the force has seen for decades. By the start of 2015/16 we will begin to deliver a redesigned force fit for the 21st century challenges, and I am confident our residents will see an improved police service.
The public told me they wanted to see more accessible and visible police officers and PCSOs – more cops on the beat rather than holed up in police stations filling in forms.
Working with South Yorkshire Police we jointly submitted a bid for a share of the government’s £20 million Policing Innovation fund, from which we were successful in being awarded £1m to collaborate in developing secure Mobile Technology, including Tablet devices and lightweight laptops. This has had the effect of police officers and PCSOs spending some 20 per cent less time in the station, have real time access to the information they need and are able to conduct admin duties on the move – More time on patrol protecting communities and less time tied to police stations.
Officers and PCSOs equipped with secure mobile technology will also allow us to open more police contact points in buildings we can share with public sector partners. Officers will now be more widely distributed in more communities, not just concentrated in a few large police stations as they are at present.
In my Police and Crime Plan I prioritised victims of serious crime, those who are persistently targeted and the most vulnerable. Victims of sexual abuse often fall into all three of those categories and need the best support we can give them. Since taking office, I have held regular closed surgeries with victims of crime. These have been facilitated by Victim Support at their offices or the victims’ own home. I have sat, often for hours and listened to harrowing stories from victims of the most serious crimes such as rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. These meetings act as my ‘rocket fuel’, the victim must always come first as these crimes erode and damage the lives of many families, as well as diminishing life chances for our children.
I have acted locally to help those victims of sexual abuse by making a grant of £41,000 from my Community Safety budget to fund an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) on the North Bank of the Humber for the next 12 months. I subsequently secured a further £137,000 of Government funding to provide support for child victims of sexual abuse in East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire with four further ISVAs, and have worked in partnership with Crimestoppers to raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation through a hard-hitting marketing campaign.
I have spoken of creating the ‘big team’ to reduce crime and make our communities safer.
Following my election I appointed my deputy Paul Robinson which the specific remit of working with partners to identify areas where we could work together, generating savings which could be ploughed back into frontline services to better serve the taxpayer.
Together we have actively negotiated with local unitary authorities, town and parish councils to have police officers and PCSOs based in public buildings at set times, increasing accessibility and visibility of Neighbourhood Policing Teams. The first of these opened in North Lincolnshire in March, where residents now have improved access to their local police.
I recall the first day I took office; I was asked to sign off the development of an £8 million vehicle maintenance building for the force, prepared by the outgoing Police Authority. I knew that just five miles away from the proposed site, the Fire Service was planning a similar project of its own. I did not sign off the proposal but instead asked them to go away and talk to the Fire Service and explore all possibilities to collaborate.
In October 2013, after months of negotiations, I signed off a plan for a joint vehicle facility for the maintenance of police and fire service vehicles across the Humber and Yorkshire region. This facility has just opened, marking a new era in collaboration between blue light services – saving money for the taxpayers.
As we move forward, I will continue to explore every opportunity to bring new innovative ideas to improve policing and the community safety sector for the good of our residents.
My office running costs (including the salaries of my deputy and I) are some £230,000 per year cheaper than the Police Authority I replaced. The Labour party have proposed scrapping PCCs and returning to a model akin to these former far more expensive and somewhat invisible Police Authorities. This is a backward step, the world is changing and policing must adapt and change with it to serve the public. That will only be achieved through innovation, and Police and Crime Commissioners have the power to deliver it.