Following on from the typed responses of the candidates in part one, part two focuses on those who gave us interviews. These were: Bob Spencer (Independent), Gareth Derrick (Labour) and Jonathan Smith (UKIP).
Why did you decide to run for Police and Crime Commissioner?
BS: I’ve spent a lot of my life in this area. I spent 30 years in the police and I have been chair of safeguarding boards – so boards that are looking after vulnerable adults. What that means is essentially: old people in executive positions who account for the delivery. I’ve also sat as a magistrate here in Exeter. I feel that I can make a difference because I think you need to have that wide breadth of knowledge of all the agencies and voluntary secretaries, policing etc … For me I kind its like someone saying you can do any job, but I would disagree, without that knowledge and expertise you won’t be able to do a good job.
GD: I was very disturbed with what I was seeing with the cuts to public services, first with the coalition government and then obviously with the prospect of a Conservative government elected last year. So at that point I actually joined the Labour Party in order to become more active politically. I proceeded with making my way through low-budget, low-level work, but then this position came up and the Labour Party contacted me and I realised that my background for the role – overseeing a large team in the Royal Navy – was as good as anybody else’s and that I could do something really positive to help public services in our area.
JS: I was a police constable for 30 years – always working on the frontline, always working on the coalface. So I‘ve seen good times in policing, and bad times in policing. And during the last twenty years we’ve had some pretty bad times in policing with the various cuts by successive governments and undermining police by cutting pay and conditions for police officers and destroying morale. I always fought against these and went to lobby the MPs in Parliament, going on the marches and so forth. But as a lowly police constable, there was little or nothing I could do and your voice didn’t get heard. But as a Police and Crime Commissioner, I’d have a bit more volume. Ultimately, however, police officers don’t agree with the Police and Crime Commissioner system. They, like me, liked the police authority system where you had a panel of councillors, magistrates, local business people etc. that held the police force to account by making sure the police were acting within budgets and doing things the public wanted, but there wasn’t the same expense. Over the next four years, the office of PCC will cost the Devon and Cornwall Police Force £20 million pounds – and that £20 million could be spent far better on the police force. So, my main aim in running for the office PCC is to try and get rid of it.
What are your key policy ideas?
BS: Fundamentally, I think that British policing is the envy of the world because we have a high uniform presence on the streets. My idea is very much to put police officers back on the street. I certainly won’t be spending huge amounts of money on expensive offices either – I fundamentally disagree with that. If we are going to spend money of offices which we will have to do I would rather that money circulated in the voluntary sector so the money isn’t lost in a big public sector. So:
- More police on the streets who are equipped to do their job
- Working closely with all our partners including the voluntary sector
- Making sure that mental health and reduction of crime is a priority
- Keeping politics out of policing
- Policing needs to look out to all different ages and socioeconomic groups
- Making sure the voice of the people is heard
GD: My main idea is to really fight for fair funding. There is a case to be made that Devon and Cornwall is substantially underfunded by at least £11-15 million, and I believe we can recover some, if not all, of that by making that case. Secondly, I want to develop a new model for effective local policing, and to do this I want to do what I think has been neglected over the last few years, and that is to properly engage with the public. I want to act so they believe in the role and see what benefits it can bring, and also that they feel the policing being delivered is relevant to their daily lives.
JS: If I can’t get rid of the role, I want to ensure fair funding Devon and Cornwall Police do an exceptional job with the budget they are given, and that is down to the work and effort of the staff. But cracks are starting to appear. They always say the most important part of a structure is the foundations, and the foundations of the police service are its workforce. If these begin to demonstrate cracks and psychological problems and they’re leaving, then the whole structure becomes unstable. I don’t want to stick my nose into the policing, as that’s the job of the chief constable, but to help him to achieve everything he wants to achieve with the limited budget he’s got.
What are the key issues facing the police force today?
BS: The budget cuts, because we are having to operate on a tighter and tighter budget. I think we have got to be sensible with the money. I think, for me, the Police and Crime Commissioner has a budget of just under £300 million so it’s a huge amount of money and just over 80% of that is spent on people. That means there’s about £55-60 million that isn’t going to people so I would really be questioning what else is it being spent on. I would start with the premise that we are going to have a uniform presence on the streets and work back from there. And I think the other important part of that is that all of the cuts, wherever they hit on the public sector, have consequences. So cuts to mental health services and the NHS means that Devon and Cornwall Police are picking up about 15 calls a day to deal with some of those people suffering with severe mental health issues. And I feel there is no other illness where you contact the police for. We can’t have people with mental health issues going into the criminal justice system. It’s just not right.
GD: The biggest overall problem is the cuts. Devon and Cornwall has already seen many cuts which have affected the force’s ability to deliver in all the ways they’d like, and they are faced with having to find substantial savings in the future, which is very perilous. The other big challenge is reshaping the police force to fight more complex crime. So the more hidden crimes of human trafficking, domestic abuse and sexual abuse that don’t always get properly addressed. And also of course the growing importance of cyber crime. So the challenge is addressing all these problems while still maintaining an effective and visible presence on the street. It’s not a challenge I underestimate, but I think the key thing is to rebuild public trust and confidence in the police force, while also making the workforce more specialised to tackle the problems of the future.
JS: The biggest challenge is making an ever-smaller and restricted budget deliver everything the public wants. The public, and I am one of them, want to see police officers on the street, but the force doesn’t have the resources to do that anymore with all it’s taking on. The biggest problem the police has got is that it’s always tried to be all things to all people. They’ve always tried to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. And what they’ve done is whether it’s social services, mental health, the NHS etc. who fall short of their responsibility, the police always step in to plug that gap. The problem is if they step forward and take on a problem that’s not theirs then the other services are quite content to step back, and the police are being increasingly drawn into areas of law that aren’t theirs. They need to have a step back and look at the role of the police is and should be, and that’s something the PCC could do if the position has to stay.
How will your policies help students?
BS: For me, I was really clear that I wanted to engage with not just engage with adults but also the younger generation. So I have had three students working with me in different roles. What I have found is people don’t always understand what young people want today. For example, many locals think that the students pre-drink to cause havoc when they go out to the town centre but I have been told by many students that this is not the case. What it is is that they pre-drink to have a gathering with their close friends because many of them do not want their drinks to get spiked at the clubs – so it’s about their own safety as they go out. One of the best things that could happen in regards to the Police and Crime and Commissioner role and the younger generation is to change how the night operates. So what I mean by that is that currently we close down shutters, everybody, all the shoppers and families clear away and then we have, in some cases, some heavily guarded police vehicles controlling up and down the streets. In contrast, there are places in Europe – Barcelona for example – where all the shops still open and it’s a great atmosphere and there is education about drinking and it’s a lot more self-regulating. People need to live their lives and feel supported by police as opposed to feeling they are being caged in.
GD: A lot of the work I’ve been doing and am focused on is related to some of the crime areas to which young people are involved in. So drugs, alcohol and sexual harassment. I’m not saying at all that students are involved at a criminal level, but in doing that, a very key part of my strategy is to work collaboratively with students and the National Crime Agency to help prevent and to intervene early when it comes to crime which affects young people. These are the kind of things which will help to rebuild trust and links between young people and the police force and improve the lives and safety of students.
JS: We need to give students more crime prevention advice. Something I’d like to do is set up a ‘university watch’ scheme like the old neighbourhood watch, to encourage students to look after themselves more. I think we’re getting to the point now where the country has devolved more and more personal responsibility to the state, and I think with the austerity and the cuts at the moment we’re reaching a point where we’ve got to sit down together and say, ‘Look, we need to look after ourselves, together’. I think it’s time for a co-operative approach, so you’d have a university watch, your PCSO contact or a local police officer and start to create your own plans to deal with the specific types of crime in your area. Obviously it’s also the responsibility of the university itself, the university management. I mean, for goodness’ sake, you pay a lot of money to go to university now, so you’re entitled to some sort of protection from crime and you’re entitled to a comfortable time there without being subjected to these offences.
You can read Part One here.