Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

When I met up with Suffolk’s Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), Tim Passmore, recently, he shared his ambitions for making the county an even safer place, given changing needs of the various communities and different types of crime now emerging, from a rise in gangs and rural theft, to safeguarding and protecting intellectual property.

With a budget of £121.8m, covering a population of 742,000, 42 per cent living in rural areas, across 1500 square miles, including 60 miles of coastline with 3 major ports and 29 marinas, this is an area also especially vulnerable to illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

In particular, the Commissioner is concerned about young people, suggesting we need prison reform to address reasons why youngsters take to crime, leading to their incarceration: “too many of these youngsters are illiterate, were in care or come from abusive families, or have mental health issues,” he explains. “We have to break the cycle, giving them a second chance, and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves, but with the right support, and we have a range of initiatives, working with business, local authorities and charities.”

A flagship policy is the renewed focus on volunteering, strengthening links with communities, enhancing services and freeing up Police Officers and PCSOs to concentrate on policing tasks.

Particularly successful is the Volunteer Police Cadets. First introduced in 2011, numbers have grown to 170 across eight cadet units, including three working in partnership with emergency services. “We have a target of 200 by 2020,” explains Cadet Co-Ordinator, Kelly Cole, who loves her role, “it’s great to develop young people, giving them the support which may not otherwise be available.” As a volunteer on horseback she knows “how important it is to engage with the community, helping people by using my local knowledge to spot and report any suspicious incidents or damage during my daily ride either alone or with friends”.

Cadets can join their local unit between ages 13 and 16, remaining a cadet until age 18. Key to the scheme is the fact that “any young person is considered,” she says:

“Previous offending is not a barrier, and we try to accommodate cadets with special needs who are supported by their own carer. We run a continuous recruitment programme, sustaining numbers and a fair gender balance across the units, and currently have a healthy waiting list.”

Key aims are to:

  • Reduce youth vulnerability to crime and social exclusion, through enhancing ability to contribute and achieve through appropriate training;
  • To develop the leadership skills required in the jobs market, which also contribute to good citizenship;
  • Promote a practical interest in policing/emergency services, and potential careers in the sector, whilst encouraging a sense of adventure and independence.

As Ambassadors for the Constabulary and Fire Service, cadets are issued with uniforms and equipment, and each has a tailored personal development and training programme, receiving certificates as they achieve specific milestones. An annual parade is followed by awarding certificates of merit and Cadet of the Year.

Cadets attend weekly meetings designed to develop general policing knowledge, with a range of speakers from the Dog Unit and Traffic, to presentations on Cyber Crime and personal safety (when parents are invited), and the Prison Service. Mental Health issues are also highlighted, encouraging young people to become dementia friends, and learn sign language. “We want to give our cadets the skills to engage with the wider community,” explains Kelly:

“A wide range of activities, including sport, are also organised at weekends and during school holidays. We want our cadets to have fun as they build confidence, rising through the ranks to Deputy and Senior Cadet. When they reach 18, some cadets then take on volunteer leadership roles for their units, alongside police officers, PCSOs and special constables.”

The Volunteer Police and Emergency Services Cadets are self-funded and rely largely on a small contribution of weekly sub monies. The level of subs is currently set at £3 per week. One Cadet Unit was luckily enough to recently be awarded a grant from their local council in the sum of £400, to support the development of each Volunteer Police Cadet within the Stowmarket group.

However, councillors seem to be missing an opportunity to use some of their Locality money. As a councillor working with my Local Neighbourhood Team and the Fire Service in Ipswich, I provided funding to establish a very successful youth project dubbed ‘Fireflies’, which significantly reduced arson on a local heath by providing young people with cycles to patrol the area regularly.

In the meantime, Tim Passmore summarises his passion for this and other projects:

“As a parent, I know how important it is that young people feel valued. It gives them confidence and ultimately gives them the courage to take responsibility for their lives. I believe our Volunteer Cadets understand that, which is why they want to join up; they also want to have fun, meet new people, and explore their abilities in responding to challenge.”

Suffolk’s PCC is full of energy and ideas, so I will be exploring his other initiatives, from the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy and Stay Safe Online, to Positive Futures, Inspire Suffolk and Fresh Start – New Beginnings, as well as Lighthouse Women’s Aid, in a future article.