Po­lice force on ‘edge of a cliff ’

Fund­ing warn­ing from rank-and-file

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY MARTIN FREE­MAN

Devon and Corn­wall Po­lice is on a “cliff edge” be­cause of fewer of­fi­cers, ris­ing crime and in­creas­ing bu­reau­cracy, MPs have been warned.

In ad­di­tion, the force is now fac­ing the “dev­as­tat­ing” im­pact of a fi­nan­cial hit from a pen­sion com­mit­ment, the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion says in a let­ter to all the re­gion’s MPs.

An­drew Berry, the union’s chair in the re­gion, says the force has lost £15m fund­ing and 510 of­fi­cers since 2010/ 11.

“There is not enough money to prop­erly fund polic­ing in Devon, Corn­wall and the Isles of Scilly,” he writes.

Ply­mouth Tory MP Johnny Mercer said the Gov­ern­ment must act.

Devon and Corn­wall Po­lice is on a “cliff edge” be­cause of fewer of­fi­cers, a rise in crime and an in­crease in bu­reau­cracy, MPs have been warned.

The force is now fac­ing the “dev­as­tat­ing” im­pact of a fi­nan­cial hit from a pen­sion com­mit­ment, the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion says in the let­ter to all the re­gion’s MPs.

The union’s chair­man in the force area, An­drew Berry, calls on the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to urge the Gov­ern­ment to take ac­tion.

“There is not enough money to prop­erly fund polic­ing in Devon, Corn­wall and the Isles of Scilly,” he writes.

“The polic­ing bud­get for our force has re­duced by £15m in cash terms since 2010/11 and, dur­ing that time, we have lost 975 per­son­nel, in­clud­ing 510 po­lice of­fi­cers – that is 15% less po­lice of­fi­cers.”

Mr Berry says an oc­cu­pa­tional health worker has re­ported an “epi­demic of stress re­lated men­tal ill-health” within the force.

“The work un­der­taken by my mem­bers has not just in­creased due to the amount of recorded crime grow­ing (31% in last two years), but also due to the com­plex­ity of the crime and the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­dens placed on of­fi­cers by the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” he says in the let­ter.

“How­ever, crime only takes up 20% of an of­fi­cer’s day, with my mem­bers hav­ing to pick up the work that other agen­cies can­not cope with.”

These in­clude 9,655 miss­ing per­son re­ports in Devon and Corn­wall in the last year, with “a vast amount” be­ing chil­dren ab­sent from so­cial care or men­tally ill pa­tients ab­scond­ing from care, he says.

Of­fi­cers spent more than over 6,700 hours last year wait­ing in A&E with a per­son suf­fer­ing from poor men­tal health and reg­u­larly have to drive peo­ple to hospi­tal be­cause there are no am­bu­lances avail­able, Mr Berry says in the let­ter to MPs. He adds that he was moved to write be­cause of the lack of help an­nounced in this week’s Bud­get and the im­pact of a re­cent pen­sion eval­u­a­tion. This will cost the force £3.5mil­lion dur­ing the next fi­nan­cial year and £10 mil­lion the year af­ter, a spend­ing short­fall that will have “un­palat­able” con­se­quences, he says.

Ply­mouth Moor View Con­ser­va­tive MP Johnny Mercer said he had not seen the let­ter but added: “The pen­sion eval­u­a­tion must be met by the Gov­ern­ment. I am acutely aware of the stress and strain on our po­lice force.

“If my party wants to be known as the law and or­der party it has se­ri­ous work ahead of it.” Po­lice had to have bet­ter sup­port in the up­com­ing Com­pre­hen­sive Spend­ing Re­view, said Mr Mercer.

Ear­lier this week, Home Sec­re­tary, Sa­jid Javid, told a con­fer­ence of chief of­fi­cers and po­lice and crime com­mis­sion­ers that he un­der­stood forces were “feel­ing stretched”. He said they would have the re­sources they need in 2019/20.

Se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers are at risk of get­ting them­selves in a bit of a tan­gle as they try to bal­ance ris­ing de­mand with tight­en­ing bud­gets and de­cide on their pri­or­i­ties. Many front-line of­fi­cers will, we sus­pect, have given three hearty cheers to Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs’ Coun­cil chair­woman Sara Thorn­ton who said it was time for po­lice to get back to deal­ing with real crimes, not in­ves­ti­gat­ing is­sues like gen­der­based hate.

But while Devon and Corn­wall Po­lice and Crime Com­mis­sioner Ali­son Her­nan­dez to­day backs Ms Thorn­ton’s call for re­fo­cus­ing on core polic­ing she said she wants all vic­tims of crime to be “taken se­ri­ously” and did not want to cat­e­gorise some crimes as “less se­ri­ous” than oth­ers.

Chief Con­sta­ble Shaun Sawyer goes even fur­ther, de­scrib­ing Ms Thorn­ton’s de­ci­sion to link what she called “in­ci­dents that are not crimes” with misog­yny as un­help­ful. Mr Sawyer said: “Hate crime is a se­ri­ous mat­ter and one that con­tin­ues to be a pri­or­ity for Devon and Corn­wall Po­lice.”

It is clear, how­ever, that so long as be­hav­iour once classed as un­pleas­ant but not crim­i­nal starts to be added to the list of crimes that should be in­ves­ti­gated by the po­lice, then pres­sures on a ser­vice al­ready cop­ing with ris­ing de­mand and re- stric­tions on re­sources can only in­crease. That is one of the rea­sons the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion in Devon and Corn­wall is telling the re­gion’s MPs the Devon and Corn­wall force is on a cliff edge.

Ms Thorn­ton’s view, that po­lice of­fi­cers are spend­ing too much of their time deal­ing with is­sues bet­ter dealt with by the NHS or lo­cal au­thor­i­ties is one any po­lice of­fi­cer would agree with. But, sadly, as de­mand has soared and re­sources be­come stretched across a num­ber of pub­lic ser­vice ar­eas, the po­lice have of­ten be­come the last line of de­fence.

It would not be right for of­fi­cers to dis­miss com­plaints of hate crimes. How­ever, when the re­view into what con­sti­tutes such an of­fence is com­plete com­mon­sense sug­gests the list ought not be ex­tended to the point that it be­comes un­man­age­able. And there is def­i­nitely a case to say that or­gan­i­sa­tions other than the po­lice should be re­spon­si­ble for some of the many prob­lems they are cur­rently forced to try and tackle. Ms Her­nan­dez is right to wel­come ini­tia­tives an­nounced in the Bud­get in­clud­ing a 24hour hot­line for peo­ple who are men­tally un­well and the es­tab­lish­ment of men­tal health am­bu­lances. That might relieve some of the pres­sure. But the only real an­swer comes down to more re­sources.

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