The Policing of Essex
The next few weeks will see us take important steps for the development of policing in our county. I want everyone to know about some of the things that will be happening, and about the areas where you can get involved.
Firstly, Chief Constable Barker-McCardle will be retiring from policing on 3rd May, 2013, after many years of exceptional service in Essex and across the country. We have begun the search for his successor. Interviews of the excellent candidates on the shortlist will take place on 12-13th February, and the Police and Crime Panel will meet to confirm the appointment on 21st February. So, by late February, we all should know who the next Chief Constable of Essex will be.
Secondly, we’re about to publish a draft Police and Crime Plan for Essex. This will set the priorities for the police, and for crime reduction, in our county. It also creates the framework of public accountability for Essex Police. The draft Police and Crime Plan for Essex will be placed on this website by Friday 25th January, and I want to hear your views about it. So please use the form on the website to make your comments or write directly to me.
Before my election, I made four pledges to the people of Essex about crime and policing: firstly, delivering policing that meets local needs, with priorities that focus on the individual needs of each community; secondly, prompt and professional policing, ensuring the force responds quickly and effectively to incidents; thirdly for the PCC to champion local initiatives between police, partner agencies and the voluntary sector to reduce crime and build safer communities; and finally being an influential voice fighting for what is right for the people of Essex and always listening to victims of crime. These themes will underpin the Police and Crime Plan.
I will be hosting public engagement meetings in every district in Essex, twice a year, where you can come along to have your say and learn the facts about crime in your area. These are crucial events, and the first two are scheduled for Wednesday 30th January in Southend-on-Sea, and Friday 8th February in Basildon. I greatly look forward to seeing some of you there.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the force is financial. Since being elected, I’ve been able to probe into the finances of Essex Police, and see how our force compares nationally. It is right and proper that I share some of the hard facts with you.
Firstly, the force is about to enter the third year of a four year change programme to save £42.2 million from the annual budget by April 2014. Chief Constable Barker-McCardle has described this as the greatest “peacetime challenge” to policing in our county. Before embarking on this major programme, Essex Police was already a lean, efficiently run force, with a high police officer to police staff ratio by national standards: in other words, most of our money was already spent on “front line” policing.
As a result of these changes, compared with the levels of 2010 the force will soon have lost 875 posts: 353 police officers (around ten percent of officers); 112 PCSOs (around 24 percent of PCSOs); and 410 police staff (roughly 19 percent of the total). Most of these reductions have now been made:
- over ninety percent of Essex Police officers are deployed on the “front line”;
- the force has the seventh highest officer to staff ratio in the country;
- Essex Police is at the cutting edge of collaboration, with the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate putting organised crime gangs out of business. All collaborative projects with Kent have delivered almost £8 million of savings so far.
There is no doubt that some of these changes have been painful. For example, the number of dedicated Neighbourhood Constables has dropped, and there has not been as much continuity in neighbourhood policing posts as local people understandably want. However, with the recent changes, over 700 officers are now part of newly created Neighbourhood Crime Teams. The Chief Constable is confident these officers will get to grips with local crime. On your behalf, I will make sure they do.
If these challenges were not enough, we also face a more local financial challenge. The funding of police forces comes from two main sources: national government grant, and council tax – of which a portion goes directly to the police. The amount of council tax we pay to fund policing services in our county is the lowest amongst comparable forces in the country*. If we, the people of Essex, paid the equivalent to the national average for policing from council tax, it would fund 470 extra police officers. We are at the bottom of the pile and will only fall further behind if we don’t take steps now to invest in our police.
The four year plan agreed for Essex Police to meet £42.2 million in budget cuts included a 2.5 percent increase in the portion of council tax paid to fund policing in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. This is equivalent to an increase of about £3.50 a year. Recently, the Department for Communities and Local Government has announced that those areas where the police funding through council tax is in the bottom quarter nationally will have a special exemption allowing them to ask for an increase of up to £5 per year, for a Band D property.
I am currently considering that and, in the next few days, I will be making an announcement about the proposed level of policing council tax in Essex for 2013-14. This will then be presented to the Police and Crime Panel for their review.
My core commitments as PCC are to continue to reduce crime in Essex, and to ensure that our communities are safe, vibrant, happy places in which to live and work, and in which to bring up families.
If you care about the policing of Essex, please do get involved in these important developments: come to our meetings or send us your views.
* Please note that the statistics refer to comparisons between Essex Police and the 35 shire forces, excluding the 8 metropolitan forces.