Challenges and Opportunities: my first months as PCC for Essex
I write this as I near four months in office as Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex. The last months have seen lots of activity – budgets, plans and appointments. New Commissioners have a few key responsibilities to perform and, in Essex, I have undertaken several of the most important already.
Appointing a new Chief Constable
Recently, the Police and Crime panel, a body set up to oversee the Commissioner, voted unanimously to back my selection for the next Chief Constable of Essex. Since the beginning of December I have been working closely with colleagues to find the best person to lead Essex Police. We were very fortunate that Essex attracted many strong applicants to give me an excellent short list of highly experienced officers to choose from.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh, Metropolitan Police Service, was an exceptionally strong candidate and has been confirmed as the next Chief Constable of Essex. Stephen brings a wealth of experience including detailed understanding of neighbourhood policing and of complex investigations, and has also been entrusted with leading some of the most demanding and important policing commands in the country. He has a strong connection to Essex and we are very fortunate to have him lead Essex Police from May.
Police and Crime Plan
At the same time as selecting a new Chief Constable, I have been working on the Police and Crime Plan, which sets the vision and priorities for policing and crime reduction in your community. This is fundamentally new, open and transparent, with real opportunity for engagement. The Plan puts responsibility for policing and crime reduction priorities back to your community. The Plan makes it clear that your local concerns, through the Community Safety Partnership, will drive the priorities for your area. My thanks to all those who commented on the draft Plan. The final version will appear on this website very shortly.
Setting the Budget
In order to deliver the Plan, I have had to grapple with how we resource and fund policing and crime reduction in Essex. I found that in Essex we pay less through our council tax for our policing than in any other county. I also found that 99 percent of the budget is spent on policing and less than half a percent on other ways of preventing crime. My proposal to the Police and Crime Panel was that this was not a responsible or prudent position to be in. They subsequently supported me in my decision to ask for a small increase of just over a penny a day for an average household to fund policing and crime reduction in Essex.
The approved budget has meant that from April this year, I will have additional funds to invest in the valuable work and projects taking place all over the county to tackle crime, offending, substance abuse, and initiatives which support the victims of crime. I want less crime and fewer victims; we need to invest in preventing the problem, not constantly cleaning up the mess.
Public Engagement Meetings
Since taking office I have driven change and introduced transparency that was not always evident with the old Police Authority. For the first time there are regular public meetings and forums and I am publishing as much information as possible online. I have held the first forums for: Rural, Business, Victims and Roads issues, to address strategic concerns affecting these areas. I have a second series of meetings planned for May to follow up on the actions we set in December.
In addition, I have led the new police and crime public engagement meetings in Southend, Basildon, Chelmsford and Uttlesford. These meetings have been well attended and we will shortly be going to Rochford, Colchester, Brentwood, Maldon, Epping, Harlow and all parts of Essex, aiming to visit each district twice a year.
Holding the Chief Constable to account
When I was out campaigning last year, I heard many people say that policing was not local, prompt or at times, professional. Since November, I have organised weekly meetings with the Chief Constable to hold him to account and scrutinise different aspects of Essex Police. Each meeting has seen me take a detailed look at different areas of Essex Police; performance, finances, current and future challenges. I plan to have the minutes of these meeting and others published online, so that you can see the action I am taking on your behalf to hold the Chief Constable to account.
Change, Transparency and Integrity
In the coming weeks, I will be reshaping the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to deliver the new focus of the office. Unlike the old system, the PCC has a much larger and challenging job which requires a new focus and support. For this reason I have decided to appoint a Deputy PCC to assist me in meeting with the many groups and individuals asking for meetings. The Deputy will also support me in holding the police to account. In order to be a Police and Crime Commissioner, there are rightly high standards and tight restrictions on the type of people we want to do this important and responsible role. I have set the same requirement of my Deputy, to have the highest integrity. The advertisement for the post has now closed and I will soon be interviewing several candidates. I am delighted that even with the appointment, I will be able to run the Office of the PCC at a cost around twenty percent below that of the old Police Authority just three years ago.
So it has been a busy and demanding start with much still being planned. Now it is down to delivery, to ensure a safer Essex for all, with less crime and fewer victims.