Police and crime commissioner elections: Devon and Cornwall

On 15 November, 37 police and crime commissioners will be elected in England along with four in Wales.

The PCCs, as they will be known, will be tasked with scrutinising their force and holding it to account. They will also set the budget, and hire and fire chief constables.

The commissioners will be paid and are supposed to empower local people into having a say on how crime is tackled.

Nominations for candidates in Devon and Cornwall have now officially closed.

BBC News has taken a look at the Devon and Cornwall force ahead of the elections.

Devon and Cornwall Constabulary

The constabulary covers one of the largest geographical police areas in England, extending across 180 miles (290km), from borders with Dorset and Somerset over to, and including, the Isles of Scilly.

The area includes the cities of Exeter, Plymouth and Truro, as well as popular seaside resorts including Newquay and Torbay.

The counties' population is about 1.5m. However, this rises to about 8m during the summer months because of tourism.

The area the force covers can be divided into the major urban populations of Plymouth and Exeter, with the rest of the region seen as being largely rural.

The new commissioners face a range of significant challenges - the first is getting noticed and connecting with the public.

The new officials are supposed to increase the accountability of police forces. But surveys show a large majority of people have no idea what they are, or are supposed to do. Unless this changes, the commissioners will struggle from the outset.

And then comes the hard work - they'll be facing suspicion and quiet hostility from significant numbers of police officers.

The establishment of commissioners is a radical change in British policing, and many senior officers I've spoken to have no taste for it.

The resistance of officers - or at least a lack of commitment to implementing any changes - will make life difficult for the new officials.

And, after that, comes the commissioners' real work - making a difference to policing.

In Devon and Cornwall, cutbacks to the force have been so wide-ranging that officers I speak to say they struggle to cope. Morale, they tell me, is as low as they've ever known.

So whatever vision a new commissioner may have - however bold or potentially popular - implementing it in the face of all these difficulties will be highly testing.

The force's priorities include improving reactive policing and subsequent follow-ups with victims and witnesses, and increasing the number of detections and positive outcomes.

It also aims to improve its ability to deal with issues that matter to neighbourhoods and communities.

The force's current temporary chief constable, Shaun Sawyer, was appointed to the role in March 2012 after the departure of Stephen Otter.

Devon and Cornwall Police is split into three basic command units (BCU): Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, Plymouth and Devon.

Each BCU has its own commander, and they are further broken down into sectors and neighbourhood beats.

A number of dispersal orders - including ones in Camborne in Cornwall; and Exmouth, Plymouth and Silverton in Devon - have been granted by councils to help officers combat incidents of anti-social behaviour.

The force works with local authorities in the region and external organisations.

In July 2009, the Newquay Safe Partnership began after two teenagers died in the resort.

Police, residents, councils and businesses have since been working together to promote safety and minimise the risks to drunk people in the town.

The partnership has won numerous awards and it was praised by Home Office staff who visited the resort in 2010.

The following year, more than 4,000 under-18s visited Newquay over the summer, according to the partnership, and more than 6,000 bottles and cans of alcohol were confiscated or poured away by police.

Funding

Devon and Cornwall Police has an annual budget of about £255m and, as a result of spending shortfalls, is due to see its number of officers drop from 3,500 in March 2010 to about 2,800 by March 2015.

In July, Mr Sawyer said maintaining public safety with fewer officers remained the key aim for the force, which is cutting £51m in spending over four years.

Timetable for PCC Elections

  • There are 41 police and crime commissioner elections taking place - 37 in police force areas in England and four in Wales
  • No elections will take place in Scotland, Northern Ireland or London
  • Nominations for candidates will close on 19 October
  • Voting takes places on 15 November
  • PCCs will be elected every four years

Earlier, Mr Sawyer said the loss of 700 officers may need to be reconsidered and reversed, and admitted it may have "cut too hard and too fast".

In comparison, neighbouring Avon and Somerset Police have an annual budget of about £280m and has to save £42m by 2015.

In its summer 2011 staff survey, 43% of nearly 3,000 respondents said the force was a good place to work, down from 63% in the winter 2010 survey.

The 2011 survey of civilian and front-line staff was the first since a number of changes were brought in to save millions of pounds.

Crime and performance

In July, the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of recorded criminal offences rose by 5.9% in a year.

The figures revealed violence against a person had increased by 10%, sexual offences were up 12%, burglary 15%, robbery 21%, and fraud and forgery 23%, however, drugs offences fell by 5%.

Analysis

It's often cited as one of the safest areas in the country to live, but whoever gets the new job as commissioner will be inheriting some challenges in Cornwall.

The local Police Federation says having fewer officers to go round is inevitably going to have a big impact in a large rural area with so many disparate communities.

And the county could also pose another issue, with some appetite in Cornwall for a return to a stand-alone Cornish force.

Responding to this, Mr Sawyer said: "We are never complacent and we have already put rigorous measures in place over the last three months which have seen encouraging reductions in burglary, theft from vehicles, criminal damage and drug offences."

In August, Freedom of Information figures showed about 40% of crimes reported to the force during the 2011/12 were not investigated after initial assessment.

The figures showed investigations shelved by officers included about 11,000 reports of criminal damage, 4,000 thefts from vehicles and 3,700 burglaries.

The rate was a rise from the previous year's figure of about 34% of some 86,000 cases not going forward.

The force said that all crimes reported to them "received an appropriate level of investigation".

The geography of the area could also pose another issue for the incoming commissioner, with some appetite in Cornwall for a return to a stand-alone Cornish force.

It also maintained that Devon and Cornwall were among the safest places to live in the country.

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