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Article for the News & Crier

14th November 2012

On the 15th of November, we shall be electing our first County Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and the current appointed Police Authority will be abolished. The role of the PCC will be to consult on setting policing priorities, to set up a police budget and local precept and to hold the local Chief Constable to account for delivery and performance. There has been much debate on the worth of PCCs. For my part, whilst November elections are questionable (the 2016 PCC elections will be in May); the concept of having democratic accountability for policing strategy is correct. Whilst almost no one knows who the current Police Authority members are, in my experience elected representatives will make sure that they consult and engage with local people.

Given that Cambridgeshire Police are a small force, with very limited resources, even compared to surrounding forces, money has always been tight, police numbers have always been relatively low and the need for effective prioritisation of spending vital. This has become even more relevant in times of public spending reductions. At this point, let us recognise that despite restricted funding, crime has fallen significantly in our area over the last year; so well done to police for doing more for less. But whilst the PCC should obviously be a champion of a fairer funding deal for the County, experience shows me that effective policing is more than just a question of resources.

The key, game changing, decision taken locally some half dozen years ago was to prioritise community policing. Given the target culture that existed, police were regularly being pulled out of Huntingdonshire towns and villages to be sent to Cambridge and Peterborough, where arrest targets could more easily be achieved. However this severely disrupted local community policing and people’s confidence in the police. The decision to prioritise neighbourhood policing and particularly PCSOs attached to specific communities has, in my opinion, had a dramatic result in re-establishing confidence. This has been complemented by a concerted effort by the police over the same period to become more ‘customer aware / friendly’. For me, the proof has been a dramatic decrease (to a trickle) of complaints being made to me about police conduct and responsiveness. To my mind these issues must remain a priority for the PCC.

It is also clear to me that effective use of limited resources is absolutely vital. For example by finding economies of scale and by working with surrounding police forces. So why, for instance, do local forces still have different uniforms? Furthermore, there is much that can be done by working with other public authorities. For instance, I was recently in St Neots market square. Where once stood an empty space next to a violent pub (that eventually had its licence revoked) now stands a smart bar next to a coffee shop and attractive outside tables and chairs. This has dramatically improved the living environment of the square and the town and effectively designed out crime, at no cost to the police. Furthermore why is it that Huntingdon has the worst late night violence problems in the district, yet arguably the least developed night life? It seems to me that a planned and well managed night scene not only gives young people things to do, but can lead to less confrontation and breaches of the peace and thereby less cost to the police.

I believe defeating crime and anti-social behaviour is much more than a question of money and police numbers. It is about working with local communities, understanding their problems and acting to deal with them.
The PCC elections are very important to our local security - please have your say and vote.


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