SINCE 2010, policing has been through a period of real and substantive change.
Police officer pay has been subject to a contentious review; in Yorkshire and the Humber there are four new chief constables and, in 2012, Police and Crime Commissioners were elected, controversially, for the first time.
Nationally, there has been a series of scandals causing people to question the integrity of the police. More locally, we’ve had a number of serious issues concerning the conduct of former chief officers. Then there is the ongoing Hillsborough investigation, whose tentacles reach far beyond the boundaries of South Yorkshire.
All of this comes at a time when police budgets have been significantly reduced and local forces are grappling with the consequences. Yet despite these events, crime has fallen and every day police officers deal with situations many of us fortunately cannot even contemplate. They and their families deserve our heartfelt thanks.
This year, police performance will be in the spotlight because in some areas crime may have stopped falling. As a Police and Crime Commissioner, I must ensure my force has what it needs to keep crime down. Surrounded by areas with higher crime rates, North Yorkshire ‘imports’ crime, so we are building up our defences.
We have invested the best part of £500,000 in technology to identify criminals coming in and out of our area, which helps both our neighbours and ourselves through better intelligence. Moreover, because the chief constable and I are fully committed to community policing, we have reversed the former Police Authority’s decision to cut officer numbers. The public are also unequivocal that neighbourhood policing is their first priority. Twenty-eight new officers started last November and another 28 will start in the spring.
All of this (and more) will take some paying for. Like others, we have substantial savings to make and we will need to innovate. In Yorkshire and the Humber, PCCs and chief constables have agreed a leaner framework for collaboration. If we are collectively to make savings and cut crime, sharing resources is an imperative. However, this must not be at the expense of accountability and responsiveness.
Debates are again being had about police mergers, fuelled by Scotland’s single national force. In November, Labour also weighed in with its review of policing led by a former London Metropolitan Commissioner, Lord Stevens. Among other things, he suggested that neighbourhood policing is at serious risk. However, in Yorkshire and the Humber, I see only commitment to this model.
Regardless of our respective political allegiances and budget challenges, local PCCs are at one in working to meet local needs. Centralising policing into ever larger units might save money within the police service, but it completely ignores the opportunities to collaborate more widely and deeply with partners in our own backyards, and to support our local economies.
This is an example of myopic, arrogant, police-centred thinking that should be relegated to the era from whence it came: the previous decade when Lord Stevens last served as an operational police officer. What’s more, under his proposals, there would be no effective scrutiny of chief constables. In our region, we know the consequences of that.
The evidence is clear; improvements come when partners work closely together. And we all know that tragedies happen when partnership working breaks down. Virtually every serious case review cites issues between partners as a contributory factor in their failure to protect vulnerable individuals.
Closer working between partners can yield both significant savings and improvements in services. Police and Crime Commissioners have a wide remit and are uniquely placed to drive collaboration forwards. Looking ahead, I believe there is tremendous potential attached to this and the commissioning aspects of our role.
Indeed, in North Yorkshire, we’ve seen early results with the long-awaited opening of a ‘Place of Safety’ for people detained under the Mental Health Act. However, the real test will come in delivering the innovative collaborations that are being considered, such as plans with Fire and Rescue. In the next 12 months central government will also devolve responsibility for victim services to local PCCs.
Victims need a service that revolves around them and not one dictated by the ‘system’ itself. I am starting with a root-and-branch review, including services provided by the police. Over the past year, I’ve been meeting with victims regularly. Often they’ve had a first class service, but at times it can be truly dreadful
Working hand-in-hand with the police and partners, we have an opportunity to make a tangible difference to victims. On a personal level it is compelling work, for this was one of the main reasons I stood for election. For victims themselves, many of whom are very vulnerable, 2014 could prove a turning point that yields significant longer term benefits.
*Julia Mulligan is the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire.