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Latest debate at Exeter Uni - This House has little faith in the police to produce justice

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 0 Comments by Claire

My third and fun debate at Exeter University’s Guild of Students took place on Friday evening. The debate’s proposition was the above title. I was arguing the proposition, with Jonathan Nicholas, a retired police officer and author of several controversial books about his time as a police officer.

Arguing against the motion was Exeter Conservative parliamentary candidate and barrister, James Tagdhissian, who I argued against last time in a debate about the European Union. James’s debating partner was Vanessa Newcombe, former LibDem Devon County Councillor.

Around 40 students were present and fired questions at us to get us to defend our positions. This time it was a bit less confrontational between panel members than it has been in the past, but James and I did have a mini argument about the need for cutting policing budgets as I took exception to his defence of austerity!

We didn’t manage to convince the students to back our position this time, but it was still fun and I really enjoy engaging with them. They’re always challenging!

Here’s my speech:

Police officers have never been more stretched, or challenged, and in my experience as a councillor, they’re working as hard as they can in difficult circumstances.

Home office data revealed this year that Devon and Cornwall Police has shed nearly half of its neighbourhood officers in the past five years.

The number of officers dedicated to community policing has fallen by 41% between 2012 and 2017.

It works out at a reduction from over 800 full-time equivalent officers and PCSOs in 2012 to over 500 in 2017.

The Home Office data also found that compared to the rest of the UK, Devon and Cornwall had the 12th largest drop at 41% of full-time equivalent neighbourhood police officers, including PCSOs and all other ranks.

In 2008/9/10 Devon and Cornwall Police’s Neighbourhood Policing arrangement, with its parish level teams, was the envy of the world.

With the evisceration of public funding, this government has decimated that model.

Crime has soared in Devon and Cornwall with sexual attacks, possession of weapons, and robbery seeing the biggest increases.

According to the force itself in April this year, recorded crime in Devon and Cornwall had risen by nearly a quarter in just a year, one of the biggest rises in England and Wales, from over 81,000 offences recorded by police in 2016 to over 100,000 in 2017, a rise of over 18,000 crimes.

Among the types of crime seeing a big rise was violence against the person, with a 10% rise in 2017. In total, police recorded over 35,000 violent crimes in 2017, 9,186 more than in 2016.

If visible policing does not work, why after every serious incident, like the appalling violent crime in Exmouth last week, does the force ensure police presence is significantly increased to reassure people?

In addition to the loss of vital police officer numbers:
- Around 34 police stations have closed across Devon and Cornwall since 2015, with some losing public access and others being sold off to developers
- Call centres dealing with non emergency calls have resulted in long delays in answering and many people hanging up before their call is answered. In 2015, top police officer, Matt Johnson said “life was too short” for people to bother ringing 101

In my role as a councillor many local people have told me that they don’t bother reporting crime because it takes so long for an officer to visit. It’s not their fault, they’re totally understaffed.

Accountability has suffered. Before 2012 there were police authorities, which held the forces in their areas to account.

Then in November 2012, with a shockingly low turnout of around 15 per cent in Devon and Cornwall, the first party political police and crime commissioners were elected.

Alison Hernandez the current conservative PCC, now has a team of over 30, with a budget of around £5m.

Her salary alone costs the taxpayer £86,000 a year.

Why is this a concern?

Well apart from the enormous public cost to the taxpayer, her main role in holding the local force to account is surely a conflict of interests, given that we have:
- Mostly conservative-run district councils in Devon (Libdem/Ind coalition on Cornwall Council)
- A conservative-run county council in Devon
- All conservative MPs in Devon and Cornwall bar Ben Bradshaw in Exeter
- A conservative government

With this political backdrop, how is it possible that the office of the Devon and Cornwall PCC can effectively or credibly hold the force to account?

The reality is that the former police authority did this job independently and far more effectively.

Finally, there are the senior politicians and their worrying denials that their own austerity policies are not the cause of a surge in violent crime in London.

On the morning she was due to launch the government’s new strategy for tackling the problem, Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary, insisted that a recent rise in violent crime, including a high-profile series of murders in London, was not connected to police funding cuts, despite her own department having released research into the subject that proved exactly that.

It is clear to me that despite the best efforts of police officers, that the odds are stacked against them and their hard work. It is though, the public who are the biggest losers.

Pic:  Responding to James Tagdhissian’s points about austerity.

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