Jason Ablewhite is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire.
When I became Police and Crime Commissioner just over two years ago, I knew Cambridgeshire Constabulary was facing a number of unprecedented challenges, both in terms of reduced budgets and increased demand.
Cambridgeshire continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the country, both in terms of population and economy and it was clear we needed to think and act differently to make sure our police force is as effective and efficient as it can be.
I spent a great deal of time listening to the public and stakeholders before publishing my Police and Crime Plan to make sure it met the needs of our diverse communities. My Plan puts people at the heart of what we do, focussing on the most vulnerable members of society, putting victims at the centre of our work, bringing offenders to justice and deterring them from reoffending.
Over the last year, the number of crimes recorded has increased, both nationally and in Cambridgeshire. While this trend is true, it is important to set it within the context of the challenges faced by the Constabulary and also reflect on the positive progress made over the past year.
There are several reasons for the increase in recorded crime: some of it is due to stricter recording practices; some is down to people having increased confidence in reporting crime to the police, particularly around domestic or sexual abuse and there is a genuine increase in some types of crime. The workload is increasing particularly in terms of investigating more ‘hidden’ crimes which tend to happen behind closed doors, in people’s homes or online.
In order to ensure the Constabulary meets growing needs, I spent the last year working closely with recently-retired Chief Constable, Alec Wood, to make sure the resources we have are put to the best possible use. This resulted in a new structure providing an extra 50 police officers to the frontline. Additionally, the increase in the policing part of the Council Tax has resulted in an extra 55 officers.
The force’s new policing model has now been live since April 30th and has been designed to ensure it is victim-focused and demand led, providing significant support to the frontline. The new structure puts the public at its centre, ensuring they are provided with the best possible service, continuing to be there for those who are most vulnerable or in urgent need of support, while targeting and bringing to justice the most dangerous offenders.
As well as tackling increased demand, larger investigation teams are now in place to ensure there is more capacity to deal with those crimes causing the highest risk. There is also a new Demand Hub, bringing together the 101 and 999 service under the same roof and new Community Action Teams able to tackle emerging issues.
The Constabulary continues to strengthen focus on the small number of offenders who are committing the majority of the offences. I continue to champion better partnership working to prevent people from offending and from re-offending. I have awarded £1.2m of grants to organisations who contribute to crime and disorder reduction, including supporting people with drug and alcohol addiction problems, to youth offending services.
The needs of Victims and Witnesses must remain central to the work of criminal justice agencies in Cambridgeshire. Over the last two years, I have invested more than £2 million in support services for victims of crime, funding specialist services for survivors of sexual violence and the Victim and Witness Hub. We now have a new Sexual Assault and Referral Centre and provide therapeutic counselling for young victims and witnesses of domestic abuse and sexual violence with national charity Embrace – Child Victims of Crime. I also recently launched a new independent and confidential website for victims and witnesses of crime, with clear and simple information about available support and how to access it.
Nationally, it is clear that police forces are picking up a significant burden in non-crime related incidents. The College of Policing recently reported that around 80 per cent of all incidents received are non-crime related, which includes issues such as responding to reports of missing persons or people at risk of mental health crisis.
To help support people in mental health crisis, and also officers dealing with these issues on the ground, I continue to fund three Community Psychiatric nurses in the Force Control Room who provide immediate advice and support, however the police cannot tackle these issues in isolation.
It is important that as budgets continue to shrink, we continue to transform the way we work through collaboration and partnership.
Looking ahead, with new Chief Constable, Nick Dean, joining us from Norfolk, additional oﬃcers coming on board and continued collaboration with other police forces and other public service organisations, the force is in a good position to tackle future challenges. It will mean hard work by all involved but we have a first rate work force, dedicated to serving the people who live, work or visit the county.