Devon and Cornwall police candidates face crime rise

Martyn Oates
Political editor, South West

image copyrightbbc
image captionDevon and Cornwall's population is about 1.5m, rising to about 8m during the tourism season

Few would immediately associate Britain's most westerly police force, Devon and Cornwall, with an excess of either crime or controversy.

Which makes some of the facts surrounding the force in the run-up to the police and crime commissioner elections particularly eye-opening.

One striking thing is the number of people who want the job.

No fewer than 10 candidates have coughed up the formidable £5,000 deposit to stand in Devon and Cornwall. The two neighbouring forces of Dorset and Avon and Somerset can only boast four apiece - the three usual suspects plus an independent.

Then there is the nature of the challenge they face.

Recent crime figures from the Office for National Statistics make interesting - and surprising - reading.

The headline news nationally appears to be good. Despite substantial cuts to police budgets there has been a 6% overall reduction in crime in the year ending June 2012.

Officer cuts

That figure is more or less doubled in some force areas, even highly urban ones. So, for instance, crime has dropped by 14% in the Thames Valley, by 12% in the City of London and by 10% in the West Midlands.

In the South West, Dorset saw a 6% fall while crime in Avon and Somerset fell by 5%.

Only four forces out of the 44 in England and Wales actually saw crime increase.

Northamptonshire and Essex both recorded a slight rise of 1%. In North Wales it was 2%.

By far the largest increase, though - 7% - was in Devon and Cornwall.

The police federation in Devon and Cornwall points out that the rise in crime coincides with cuts to officer numbers in the largest force area in England and Wales.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary agrees that Devon and Cornwall faces particular financial problems.

HMIC's report Adapting to Austerity, published in July, identifies four other forces with the same kind of special challenges.

All the others, though, have seen reductions in crime over the past year. Sussex (2%), West Mercia (6%) and Nottinghamshire (10%).

Gwent, the fifth authority, clocked up a whopping 18% drop in crime.

That - by a substantial margin - is the best score for any police force in England and Wales. And it's been achieved by one of the most financially challenged.

So whatever is responsible for Devon and Cornwall's trend-bucking crime rise, it doesn't look as if it can simply be blamed on the cuts.

If size matters, though, it's a fact that Gwent would fit into Devon and Cornwall many times over.

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