The challenges of policing our county
The grant settlement for Essex Police is challenging. It will lead to an £8.5m (4.7%) reduction in central government funding for the force in 2015-16.
I will continue to be open and honest about the implications of this cut in funding, with Essex Police officers and staff, and with the people of Essex. I agree with the Essex Police Federation that police officers are under considerable pressure, and I will continue to work with Chief Constable Kavanagh to ensure there is a proper focus on the welfare and fair treatment of officers and police staff.
Central government grant makes up around two-thirds of the overall policing budget, with the other one third coming from the portion of local council tax used for policing and community safety purposes. To help offset the reduction in central government grant, my intention is to seek an increase in the policing precept for Essex for 2015-16 of just under two per cent. This would raise about £1.7 million and cost an average council tax payer less than 6 pence per week.
As Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, I believe seeking an increase in the policing precept is the right and responsible thing to do. The amount currently paid through council tax by residents of Essex is the second lowest of any shire county. If our contribution rose to the average paid through council tax across the country, this would fund an additional 300 officers. Even with a near two per cent increase in the policing precept, we will not be able to reach that national average figure, but it is important that we make a meaningful contribution through council tax to funding our police force.
I agree with the Essex Police Federation that the nature of crime is changing. I am confident that there has been a genuine reduction in many types of crime. House burglary across the county is down by 9.5 per cent in the year to November 2014, which means there have been 731 fewer house burglaries compared with the previous year. Burglary is a distressing crime, and this significant reduction is in large part the result of intelligent, proactive, policing using modern predictive techniques. There has also been a reduction in vehicle crime, with thefts from vehicles down by 14.4 per cent (1302 fewer thefts), and other types of vehicle crime down by 10.9 per cent (1297 fewer crimes).
It is also true that some crimes have been historically under-reported. Chief Constable Kavanagh, with my complete support, has driven a renewed focus on tackling domestic abuse in our county. As domestic abuse sometimes results in acts of physical violence, this is partly responsible for an increase of around 17 per cent in violent crime in Essex.
There has also been an increase of over 20 per cent in serious sexual crime, which is in line with national figures from the Office of National Statistics, with a reported increase of around 21 per cent in sexual assaults across the country. This is in large part due to the ‘Savile effect” encouraging victims to report crimes that have happened in the past, and to an increased confidence in victims informing police of sexual assaults.
Independent inspection has identified Essex Police as one of the best forces in the country for recording crime accurately, and I have made it clear that there will be no chasing of performance targets or manipulation of crime figures in our county. The figures provide essential information as to the nature of crime in our county, and how our policing resources can be best used. Violent and serious sexual crime causes real harm, and Essex Police must continue to focus efforts on bringing perpetrators to justice and supporting victims.
I do not believe that local policing is being “eroded” in Essex, although it is being delivered in new ways and through increased partnership with local authorities. The recent restructuring of force resources has seen the return of a significant number of police officers to the local control of Essex Police District Commanders. The District Commanders know the local priorities for their area, and now have the ability to use local policing resources to tackle key local issues. But effective local policing does not necessarily mean more “bobbies on the beat”.
In 2015, the front line is the front room. In Essex, there are four times as many domestic violence incidents as there are burglaries, and most domestic abuse takes place not in the street but in the family home. ‘Bobbies on the beat’ will not address this and other hidden harms.
Online grooming of children also takes place behind closed doors, and we need to invest more money and resources, and build ever closer working relationships with partners such as social care agencies, to tackle the horrors of Child Sexual Exploitation.
It is also clear that fraud is being under-reported. The majority of attempted fraud offences – where criminals frequently target some of the most vulnerable members of our communities – use telephone or computer technology.
To tackle the challenges of people suffering a mental health crisis, we need to build on the commitment in the newly signed and agreed Concordat to enhance partnership working between the NHS, the police, councils and many other agencies.
So there are huge challenges for policing, and we need a fearless and fundamental look at how police and partner resources are used to tackle crime and keep our communities safe now and in the future.
I am firm in the belief that we must also continue to invest for the longer term in key areas such as the technology available to our police officers, ensuring the Essex Police property estate is fit for purpose, and in providing the very best training for officers, PCSOs and police staff. We must ensure that today’s front line is as strong as possible, whilst continuing to invest in tomorrow’s front line.
The debate about how best to meet these challenges should not take place “behind closed doors”. I have an extensive programme of public meetings, including the Essex Police Challenge events where the people of our county can ask questions directly of their Chief Constable. Residents can contact my office at any time. I also welcome the involvement of the Essex Police Federation in this debate. I may not always agree with their analysis, but it is important that we have an open and frank debate so that together we rise to meet the challenges of continuing to keep Essex safe.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex