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JOHN TWYFORD: Commissioner must get tough with the police

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: October 16, 2012

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THE new police chief for Devon and Cornwall will face a tough job once elected next month in what has so far been one of the least talked about elections ever.

Who knew that elections for police chiefs were taking place across England and Wales on November 15? Or even that they would be called police and crime commissioners?

And if you knew that, did you also know the new police chief for Devon and Cornwall will be responsible for a budget of £255 million and will be able to hire and fire chief constables?

Before I started thinking about police and crime commissioners this week, I have to admit I knew very little about the new role, and even less about what it was replacing.

Elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will take over from police authorities, which were made up of appointed worthies. In Devon and Cornwall we have 18 authority members, none of whom were elected, or at least not elected to serve on the police authority.

The councillors on it were appointed by their councils and the others were appointed by the police authority itself. We had no control over who was on it, and perhaps, therefore, very little interest in them or what they did.

If the authority had stood in a contest for the public body with the lowest profile, the greyest of the grey, it would certainly have been put on the shortlist. The authors of a Government White Paper even concluded police authorities were "invisible".

And in Devon and Cornwall this was despite them receiving a combined total allowance (pay) of almost £250,000 last year, with an added total expenses bill of almost £30,000, which you might have thought would have meant them being noticed if only to be complained about.

The new police chief is expected to be paid £85,000 a year, so seems dirt cheap in comparison.

But he or she has a difficult task. Not only do they have to be in authority over a police force unused to a single 'civilian' having such power, and possibly one with no police experience at all, but they have to manage a smaller budget and a reduction of 700 in the number of police officers.

Also, in my opinion, they have to do something about the complacency in the police force towards investigating crimes.

The BBC reported in August, following freedom of information requests, that more than 35,000 crimes reported in Devon and Cornwall were not investigated by the police beyond an initial assessment. This figure represented almost 40 per cent of all crimes reported to them.

It included about 11,000 reports of criminal damage, 4,000 of thefts from vehicles and 3,700 burglaries – all abandoned as hopeless cases for investigation unless new information landed in the lap of the officer to whom they were assigned.

I've previously commented on the ludicrously low rate of 'detections', as they used to be called in police-speak – now horribly called 'positive outcomes'. In Mid Devon in the year to March, 2011, the police managed an overall detection/positive-outcome rate of less than 30 per cent.

Fewer than one in four burglaries were solved, fewer than one in five thefts from vehicles were solved, just one in 10 bicycle thefts were solved and a little over one in 10 cases of criminal damage.

And the offences where the detection rate was high? I imagine offences like shoplifting only had high detection rates because most shoplifters were 'caught' by the police following a phone call from the shop where they had already been apprehended by staff. Ditto drug offences – offenders were apprehended by police officers at the same time the crime was discovered, and solved.

Now I learn one of the reasons why so few crimes are detected – the police have a look at them, and in almost 40 per cent of cases, decide they're not worth bothering with.

And in the year up to March, 2012, the crime rate in Devon and Cornwall as a whole rose by 5.9 per cent.

I think this is appalling. Surely they can do better than that? I would hope the new police and crime commissioner doesn't bang on forever about how safe it is here, but gets stuck in and actually does something about making it a safer place with a lower crime rate.

The problem is – how do we tell which one of the candidates is likely to be better than the rest? Has anyone even heard of any of them? I hope once nominations close this week that we get a better picture of who is standing and what they represent.

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