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Saturday 9 November 2013

One Year in and Cheshire is Safer


Today marks John Dwyer’s 350th day in office as Police & Crime Commissioner for Cheshire. In this feature, John reflects on almost a year’s activity, working towards his vision to make Cheshire even safer.

The road to becoming Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Cheshire was long and winding. After being selected by the Conservative Party to be their candidate, I started my campaign in July 2012 to spread the word about the role of PCCs as well as encouraging people to vote in the 2012 election. All of the hard work and determination came to fruition on 15 November when the votes were counted and I was elected. I felt honoured to be the first Commissioner for Cheshire and I want to reiterate my thanks for voting me in.

Crime is at the lowest level since the 1990s and is continuing to fall. Recent performance figures show that prolific offenders are getting the support they need to break their cycle of criminal activity, resulting in a 16% reduction in the number of re-offenders. I am also pleased to see that 89% of victims were satisfied with the service they received from the Constabulary. As a result Cheshire is currently the fourth highest force in the country with regards to public satisfaction. Being the elected representative for the public in the police, it’s important to me that victims get the services they expect and deserve.

I have been shining a light on offenders being brought to justice and asked for a review to be undertaken with regards to the number of crimes detected. In my last scrutiny meeting where I hold the Chief Constable to account for policing performance, I was delighted to see an upward turn of almost 10% in the number of crimes solved.

I determined very early on that I would focus on the needs of victims of crime first and foremost. I am currently undertaking one of my biggest pieces of consultation since coming into office. During 2014, the Ministry of Justice will transfer the commissioning of some victim services in England and Wales to Commissioners. Recent performance data from the Constabulary shows that over the last 6 months there have been over a 1,000 fewer victims of crime in Cheshire and 89% of victims have been completely satisfied with the service they’ve received. However, I don’t want to rest on my laurels and improvements can still be made. I want to find what victims experience and what they expect from the police, and victim support organisations in order to inform my decisions.

Public sector organisations are facing tough times, with budget cuts seeming to be announced every other week. One of my first tasks was to look at the policing budget and find ways of making £36 million worth of savings over the next 3 years. I had to achieve balanced budgets whilst maintaining an effective policing service. In order to evaluate where the savings could be made, I asked for a root and branch review of policing. Significant savings have already been found by re-evaluating some building agreements, the procurement of uniform and using alternate energy solutions. I have plans in place to meet the amount of savings required and will be making announcements over the coming months about how this will be achieved.

One of the challenges of the budget cuts is maintaining front line officers. Despite the cuts, I made sure that we were able to recruit 21 officers this time around. People around the county, continually tell me that they want to see bobbies on the beat. To address this, I launched the ‘Do Something Special’ campaign encouraging people in the community to give something back and help the Constabulary.

A large strand of this campaign is to promote and encourage people to volunteer or join the Special Constabulary. Ninety four new Specials have been recruited since I came into office. I’m not using Specials as a cheaper alternative for regular officers. They do not come free, money is spent on their training, uniform, equipment etc. However, I think they are great value for money as they provide the visible presence on our streets. My aim is to have 1000 volunteers in a variety of jobs by the end of this term in office.

Being a Commissioner doesn’t just mean that I’m always working at ways to balance budget sheets or write strategies. I was elected as PCC on the pledges that I made in my manifesto, which were then incorporated into my Police & Crime Plan. I pledged to appoint a Youth Ambassador.

There are over 1 million people living in Cheshire, and 238,000 of them are under the age of 18. Young people are an important part of our communities. I consulted with young people to find out what role they would like the Youth Ambassador to take, and what qualities they thought were important. I also asked a variety of partners who would be working with the ambassador to help me draw up a job description. To ensure that I had young people’s input all the way through the process, I set up a youth panel to put the candidates through their paces on the interview day. All of this hard work resulted in Dominic Rogers being appointed earlier this year. Dominic has already gathered the views of over 1000 young people about personal safety, crime and policing and has been working with a myriad of organisations to provide advice and listen to their views.

On the 22 July I launched Cheshire’s Crime Fighter App. I wanted to allow people all across Cheshire to have instant access to the Constabulary wherever they are. The App makes this possible. This is only the first stage of development of the App, however, I am looking at ways to make it available to other mobile platforms in the future. This App is not a replacement for the 999 or 101 service, but it allows people to interact with their neighbourhood policing unit.

I want to help communities where I can, so I created my Crime Prevention Fund which allows people to apply for funding to support community projects or initiatives. Since July, I’ve received 40 applications and granted over £58,000. All of the projects aim to improve people’s lives in their local area, by providing services or diversionary activities to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. I enjoy giving things back to the people of Cheshire, I feel that this is one way I can achieve that.

I have also been working in partnership with other public sector organisations. I allocated £900,000 to partners to combat antisocial behaviour and other criminal activity such as drugs, domestic abuse and youth offending.

I have been working across the North West with other Police & Crime Commissioners to develop new ways to collaborate and jointly make the best use of our resources.

I have also been leading work nationally with Government and national partners which will have a positive impact on Cheshire such as procurement, efficient air support, the review of probation services and integrity in policing − a critical issue to maintain confidence in Cheshire police.

Over these first 350 days, I’ve battled the budget cuts, met with many people around the county, helped communities in Cheshire and worked with the Constabulary to ensure that Cheshire is a safer place to live. But this is a marathon not a sprint. I want to ensure long term value for money that is sustainable and based on sound research and evidence. I am not looking for quick wins and am looking forward to the challenges that are yet to come.

Thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to be your Police & Crime Commissioner.

John Dwyer

Police & Crime Commissioner for Cheshire

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