It was inevitable that there would be a debate about the value and effectiveness of Police and Crime Commissioners. Much has been made of the poor turnout at the elections and I still feel that the elections were at the wrong time (November instead of the traditional May alongside local elections) and were not properly promoted. Over the last two years there have been “triumphs and disasters” with some high profile cases bringing the role into disrepute.
I cannot comment on the actions or effectiveness of other Police and Crime Commissioners. All I can do is focus on my own area and get on with the job of ensuring the people of Cambridgeshire have a force they can trust and be proud of.
I am fortunate to have an excellent Chief Constable in Simon Parr supported by a strong management team resulting in a professional and well-motivated organisation. We were immediately able to work together to meet the challenges that lay ahead. This has not been the case in every part of the country and the reputation of Police and Crime Commissioners has suffered as a result.
One of the great advantages of Police and Crime Commissioners is the ability to make decisions and take quick action. Not having to make decisions by committee means that I can drive things forward quickly. My experience in government, particularly when managing then Prime Minister John Major’s office at No 10, has helped me in making decisions and pulling people together. Obviously, to begin with there was a steep learning curve and I took plenty of advice. Now, as my knowledge has grown, I am able to move forward in a number of areas that are important to me, important to the Constabulary and important to the people we serve.
It takes time for new organisations to get established and it certainly needs more than one term of office. I believe Police and Crime Commissioners will become even more effective over time and be appreciated by the public for the independence they bring to holding the Police to account.
When meeting people I am asked what difference have you made? I am always happy to explain and I hope people go away with a much higher opinion of me and the office I hold! Below are just some of the areas of work I am particularly proud of.
Both the Chief Constable and I want to put victims of crime at the heart of policing. When the provision of victim support services moved from national to local delivery I was able to not only integrate the provision of services, but also to enhance them. This has been done by setting up a Victims’ Hub, run by the Constabulary rather than through a national contract. This is staffed by local people with local knowledge who understand the support services available and develop local solutions for victims. Victim Care Co-ordinators assess victims of crime to determine the level of support they need and then help them in the most appropriate way, bringing in specialist services as required.
The services available for victims of domestic and serious sexual offences have also been boosted through grants I have given to Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid. Young victims will be able to access enhanced support through two new Young Person Independent Sexual Violence Advocates and a new post within the Sexual Assault Referral Centre will support the families of children who have been sexually assaulted.
The bereaved families of those killed on the county’s roads in fatal road traffic collisions are being supported by a local charity I have funded. The work of the charity’s volunteers not only saves Officer time but professionalises the support offered to families in what are often traumatic circumstances.
I am particularly concerned for the welfare of those with mental health problems. When I first became Commissioner I was horrified that people with mental health problems sometimes ended up in the cells for the night when they should have been in hospital. We now have agreements in place between the Constabulary and health care professionals to ensure those with mental health issues are assessed and dealt with in the appropriate way.
On 3 November 2014 we went one step further with the signing of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat Declaration. This landmark agreement sets out how agencies that deal with people with mental health problems will work together to support those experiencing mental health crisis. Improved information sharing and partnership working, prevention and early intervention were just some of the commitments made. This is an agreement I am very proud of and was achieved in partnership with Maureen Donnelly, Chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
The Victims’ Hub hosts Community Psychiatric Nurses known as Mental Health Pathfinder Case Workers to support those victims who appear to have significant mental health problems, and specialist support for exploited migrant workers.
As part of my role in representing the public I am constantly gathering the views of the people and responding to their concerns. I receive a large number of telephone calls, e-mails and written correspondence. In the last two years I have received around 3000 pieces of correspondence. All correspondence is followed up and the individuals responded to. Topics are extremely varied and come from individual citizens as well as partners, government departments and other stakeholders.
I offer 1-2-1 meetings with anyone who wishes to speak to me at monthly surgeries and I also hold “street surgeries” where I visit towns and cities and speak to people on the street. My Outreach Worker extends my ability to engage with local groups, gathering opinions and feeding the intelligence back to me. Also, there is a high demand for my opinion from the media which I am pleased to do as it allows me to share the good work that is going on rather than just respond to criticisms of the police.
Supporting young people
I would like all young people get the best possible start in life and so have supported various initiatives that help divert young people away from a life of crime.
School forums – My Outreach Worker is running a series of forums in schools across Peterborough and Fenland which give students an opportunity to have their say on policing and crime. Sessions are held across Years 7, 10 and 11 discussing topics such as policing priorities, reporting crime, anti-social behaviour, hate crime and relationships with the police. Peterborough Rape Crisis are also delivering a session to determine young people’s understanding and perspectives of sexual violence. These sessions are not so much to educate as to listen to what young people have to say.
Although the majority of students involved do trust the police, it will often depend on the Police Officer and how they engage with each other. Many students feel they are treated differently, in a negative way, just because they are younger.
Police cadets – Cambridgeshire’s first Police Cadets scheme started in Peterborough in November 2014. The scheme promotes a practical understanding of policing among young people and encourages a spirit of adventure and good citizenship through volunteering in the community. The cadets meet once a week for two hours to take part in a mix of structured learning and physical activities based on nationally approved training. In addition to the weekly meetings Cadets are expected to complete three hours of volunteering each month perhaps by supporting crime prevention initiatives or attending community events. This can count towards formal qualifications and evidencing voluntary work for the Princes Trust/ Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Each unit is supported by a team of volunteer leaders who are responsible for the cadet group and their weekly activities.
Youth fund – I set up a Youth Fund to engage young people in positive activities in their community in line with my Pledge in the Police and Crime Plan to ‘support work with young people to divert them away from a life of crime’. Charities and community groups can bid for grants of up to £2,000 through the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation. The projects must be related to activities that have the potential to reduce youth crime. www.cambscf.org.uk/pcc.html
Neighbourhood Alert system
Cambridgeshire is one of the areas that have adopted the Neighbourhood Alert system. This is an online, secure community messaging system that allows authorised administrators to log in and send messages to registered people in the community, members of Neighbourhood Watch and other schemes. Launched in September 2013 it has had great success in growing its membership and joining up communications between the Constabulary and Neighbourhood Watch. Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s E-cops messaging system, which uses the Alert platform, now has 12,000 subscribers who receive tailored updates on crime in their area.
The Constabulary continue to work with other agencies to keep people safe and tackle crime and disorder. Sharing information between organisations is vital to providing a coordinated response to those we deal with, particularly some individuals or families that have a number of issues. That is why I championed use of the ECINs system which allows partners to share information and task across agencies on a range of issues, including anti-social behaviour. Access is restricted to a small number of agencies but by using the system it is possible to identify occasions where a number of different agencies and working with the same individuals. They can then coordinate support for greater impact and greater efficiency.
Maintaining a visible police presence
As part of the governments rebalancing of the economy the police have had to absorb their share of budget cuts. These cuts are likely to continue and the ambition is to protect the front line as much as possible. I am pleased that so far front line numbers have been maintained and cost reductions achieved through back office savings, the use of technology and through collaborating with other forces. However, the scale of future reductions needed means that nothing can be guaranteed.
There are many achievements I am proud of over the last two years. But the biggest challenges still lay ahead. These centre around the budget reductions faced across the public sector, including the police, which will have an impact on local policing in the future.
Police budgets have taken a big hit over the last few years and will continue to do so in the next few. Meeting these financial challenges requires strong leadership from my office and from the Constabulary. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Achieving savings of this magnitude cannot be done by make small changes to current ways of working. It requires tough decisions to be made. It requires transformational change. It requires innovative thinking.
I believe that Police and Crime Commissioners, working closely with their Chief Constables, will provide an effective tool for achieving these savings. Police and Crime Commissioners are able to make these tough decisions.
The debate about the pros and cons of Police and Crime Commissioners will continue as we move towards the General Election in May 2015. Whatever the outcome, my commitment remains to do the job to the best of my ability and to serving the people of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
There remain tough times ahead with difficult decisions to be made as policing adapts to new ways of working. But readers can be assured that there is a professional and capable team in place to ensure we continue to deliver effective policing that the public can have confidence in. We will do this with integrity, transparency and will remain accountable to you, the public.