Record level of police numbers will soon have a positive effect on our communities

Police have been tackling crime in Honiton, Axminster and Colyford over the last few days.

Officer numbers due to hit record-high this year - Credit: Mark Atherton

One of my core duties – as the public’s representative in policing - is to seek the views of residents of the Devon and Cornwall Police area while developing strategies and budgets.

Over the years our communities have been quite clear about their priorities. Since I was first elected to this role in 2016 the overwhelming message from you has been around officer numbers.

I have made the case to Government about the challenge of policing the largest police force areas in England and with the support of the public, who said they would be prepared to ‘pay more to get more’, embarked upon a Devon and Cornwall uplift well before central Government decided to follow suit.

The result of those combined increases is that officer numbers will hit what is almost certainly a record-high number of officers this year. Home Office figures tell us that since 1946 police officer numbers in England and Wales stood at just 52,106, climbing steadily to 132,623 in 2010, before austerity measures took effect.

In Devon and Cornwall the budgeted figure for police officer numbers – the number my financial plan enables the force to recruit – always varies a little from the real number of boots on the ground.

On December 31, 1967, a few months after Devon and Cornwall constabularies were amalgamated to form the current force, officer numbers stood at 2,143 (2,076 were male, and 67 female). In the years to 2009 they rose slowly but steadily until 2009 cuts in Government spending. In our force, they started rising again from 2016/17, when we could afford 2,924 officers, 10 fewer than recorded by the Home Office for the force in 2001.

Since then your investment, funded both by local taxation (the police council tax precept) and from the national uplift fund handed to my office from the Home Office, has enabled the force to hire and train a lot more officers. The proposed budget I take to the Police and Crime Panel on January 28 will outline plans to hit a record budgeted force strength of 3,610 in 2022-23.

Extensive and professional police training means there is a delay before these increases in officer numbers are felt by the public, and it is that what I and the force are focussed on now.

We know through annual surveying that the public wants to see their investment in policing in the places they live, where they feel there is an absence of officers (particularly in rural areas), on the roads where they see dangerous and inconsiderate driving, and in preventing crime from happening in the first place.

Over the next few months and years, I will be focused on ensuring these record levels of investment in law and order start having a positive effect in communities around the peninsula.