'Fearful' Exeter Uni students find new police ally
THE campaign run by Exeter students to stop street lighting being switched off has found a new ally – the Devon & Cornwall police and crime commissioner.
Tony Hogg marked his first 100 days since his election victory by outlining to Express and Echo readers his early work and his policing priorities for the future.
Among the issues he chose to highlight during a wide-ranging interview was the on-going battle run by the University of Exeter Students' Guild. The Guild is fighting to stop Devon County Council pushing ahead with its decision to turn off street lights in residential areas between 12.30am and 5.30am.
Mr Hogg said: "They are running a campaign to find the appropriate level of lighting for the night and I think we should listen to the young people in a very big way. Exeter City Council back up the students and a solution needs to be found that they are happy with.
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"I can help by relating the issue back to the police plan and I hope, in time, the opinions and endorsement of the police and crime commissioner will carry some weight in the argument.
"I have already pledged to offer that backing to the students and in giving those issues an airing. If the students are fearful we as a community should be concerned about that and look at what is the best solution. We need to look at the best solution whether these involve selective lights and looking at walking routes."
Mr Hogg said another of his priorities was looking at the issues caused by alcohol related crime but felt it was up to more than just the police to tackle the issue.
He added: "Alcohol minimum pricing is one of the things in the news at the moment but that has to be part of the overall equation. I am very concerned about the volume of alcohol being drunk. I don't want to stop the party but places like Exeter need to be an attractive place to come at night.
"Alcohol is an enormous burden on police resources and the A and E department and is responsible for 50 per cent of violent crime. It is also often a factor in domestic abuse and sexual violence as well. That of course runs on into effects on children.
"It is not for me to say what I think should or should not happen for the community of Exeter, Crediton or Sidmouth. It is for them to decide for their own area what they want and the local councils have the power to put licensing rules in place. It should not just be left to the police – their job is to enforce those decisions."
Mr Hogg added "I fully support visible policing day and night. But there are some situations where it is beneficial for the police to stand back and let a group such as the street pastors diffuse a situation early on. The police are there when there needs to be enforcement. But there are time when the less confrontational street pastors can calm a situation down." Mr Hogg's first few months in charge has been focused on employing Shaun Sawyer as permanent chief constable, developing a policing plan and setting a proposed budget. He has rejected a freeze grant from the government to enable him to add two per cent onto the precept that will allow the force to maintain a "baseline" of 3,090 officers and avoid what he claimed would be a "disastrous cut". He said he is now focusing on getting out into the communities he represents and accepts he still needs to convince many of the value of his role.
Mr Hogg said he is now working to the backdrop of "encouraging" crime figures in Devon and Cornwall. There was a significant increase in crime in the year from September 2011-2012, which he described as "very grim."
But he added: "There has now been a 5.4 per cent reduction in crime in the year from April last year. The only areas that have risen are sexual crime, which the police are examining. The public are rightly concerned about it but the police are looking into the figures and how much of this is increased reporting of incidents and whether there is an underlying trend. And we are only touching the tip of the iceberg over domestic violence, which is something else we need to keep a close eye on.
"But overall the current figures are more encouraging. This is down to tough leadership at the top. It is not just the number of police officers but how we use them."