Burglary, cross-county drug dealing and the impending takeover of the county’s fire and rescue service are among the key issues facing North Yorkshire’s police and administration, according to Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan.
Mrs Mulligan appeared before Harrogate Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny commission on Monday to provide an update of police activity in the borough.
It came after a tumultuous week for the commissioner, in which multiple bullying complaints against Mrs Mulligan made by her staff were upheld by a Police and Crime Panel.
However, the findings weren’t mentioned by Harrogate councillors on Monday, with questions instead focusing on the recent and upcoming operations of the region’s police force during a lengthy two-hour question and answer session.
Mrs Mulligan provided an update on policing numbers in the county, with North Yorkshire set to have 1400 officers in its command by April 2019, according to the commissioner. At present North Yorkshire has about 1360 officers, Mrs Mulligan said, with 1400 the highest number the county has had since 2012.
Despite higher numbers of police, she said the pressure was still on to tackle the “changing nature” of county crime.
“Its not just (police) numbers that’s important, it’s the changing nature of crime that’s important,” she said. “(We’re seeing) higher numbers of domestic and sexual abuse, much of it facilitated by the internet, fraud has rocketed, and a lot of high harm activities, perpetrated by organised criminal networks.”
She said that a 38 per cent rise in burglary in Harrogate couldn’t wholly be attributed to a change in how the crimes were recorded.
“Some of it is a genuine rise in burglaries… it particularly concerns me because it is the thing that is the single most concern to members of the public,” she said.
Mrs Mulligan outlined how county lines crime was an on-going focus with a significant amount of crime occurring in North Yorkshire originating in West Yorkshire.
In terms of drugs, crack and heroin were the source of the biggest issues in Harrogate, in addition to cannabis, she said.
Recent arrests in Harrogate showed there were “very vulnerable people being exploited by criminal gangs to sell drugs”.
She said “cuckooing” – in which drug dealers from outside the local area commandeer a home from a vulnerable person to use as a drug dealing base – was a major focus of police, with nine identified county lines operating in North Yorkshire and the subject of large-scale police investigations.
Mrs Mulligan also said the complex process of bringing North Yorkshire Fire Service under her governance was underway.
The commissioner said she was “inheriting a very difficult financial position”, with savings of up to 17.5 per cent of the service’s £30m a year budget set to have to be made to get the organisation back in the black. Mrs Mulligan said she was confident the savings could be made without closing or amalgamating any of the county’s 38 stations.
Instead, she suggested that other cost-cutting measures could be implemented, such as potentially sharing specialist fire-fighting and rescue equipment with neighbouring counties.
She also outlined concerns over emergency services pensions, tied in with the unpredictable economic ramifications of Brexit.
She said that initial indications were that there could be a funding shortfall for police and firefighter pensions due to market fluctuations arising from Brexit, with council’s tasked with looking for ways to deal with the shortfall.