Police commissioner Tony Hogg looks to up the pace after testing 'first chapter'
As Devon and Cornwall’s first ever police and crime commissioner, Tony Hogg has faced major decisions over personnel, policy and precept since being elected in November. In an interview to mark his first 100 days in office, he spoke to Andy Greenwood about the next phase.
The first few months of office for police and crime commissioner Tony Hogg were always destined to be difficult.
Even before he was elected in November, the priorities were clear – appoint a chief constable, formulate a police and crime plan and set the budget for next year.
Those three critical tasks have now been achieved, with Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer now in post, the crime plan outlined and a 2% increase in council tax agreed.
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"Having got into the job towards the end of November, the scope of the job has grown in my mind," he said.
"It is clear in concept – the efficiency and effectiveness of the police service and criminal justice system and commissioning.
"But it is as big as you want to make it and I think it has been very important to really try to set out a personal strategy to deal with this because some of the areas are not completely unfamiliar but others are.
"I think I feel comfortable in the pace that I have taken things although that is not to say it was a comfortable pace, in fact it has been non-stop.
"We have now completed the first chapter of the early part of the job in terms of mechanisms to deal with governance, which is a dry subject, but very much needed to be done.
"Now of course I feel as though I am in chapter two and now I can begin to develop the role and concentrate on getting on the road and talking to people."
The budget decision, in particular, was seen as a watershed moment with the force in the midst of a four-year, near £50 million savings programme but with pressure from Ministers to keep tax bills down.
The 2% rise staved off the continuing loss of police officers from a high of 3,500 in 2011 to a forecast 2,810 in 2015 – a level many senior officers regarded as unsustainable.
"It very quickly became clear to me that we needed to try very hard indeed to find a way to stabilise police numbers," Mr Hogg said.
"I soon realised that the numbers available for neighbourhood policing from the 2,810 was somewhere where we really did not want to go.
"But we have been lucky in some ways. The Government didn't punish us with further savings over and above what was assumed, so they gave a little bit of a holiday to police funding.
"Adding a little bit more in terms of the precept will not only enable us to hold 3,000 officers for the four years of the plan, albeit the next comprehensive spending review will have its effects later on no doubt, but also to recruit more special constables and to look at some proper investment in technology.
"As it stands today, I think overall we have got it right."
Mr Hogg has put victims at the top of his priorities and has made plain his determination to tackle problems areas such as domestic violence.
But a recent visit to witness the policing of pubs and nightclubs in Plymouth has also hardened his resolve to target alcohol-related crime.
"Alcohol puts a huge demand on the police and we are trying to reduce the demand because we have fewer officers," he said.
"Then if one youngster needs eight officers to take them to custody, just to keep them safe from hurting themselves, we need to think about that and decide whether we want to spend our taxpayers' money in that way.
"We need to try to limit the impact in a range of ways – education, minimum unit pricing perhaps, multi-buys and very importantly proxy buying and pre-loading. We need to try to stop people drinking themselves unconscious."
He added: "I would emphasise that I don't want to stop the party but I think that we should take a responsible view over alcohol and that is very much on my list as well."
Mr Hogg said he was going to "up the pace" in getting out among the public, after some criticism of a lack of visibility, staging roadshows and other events. In particular he wants communities to "play their part in the policing family".
"There is a whole area and I am getting lots and lots of letters from the public saying we understand the situation and we would like to play a part in volunteering," he added.
"We've got all the watch systems, neighbourhood, street and farm watch, but I want to make sure that the police make provisions for volunteering to augment the policing family.
"It wouldn't be inappropriate to say I think over the years the police service have sometimes seen these things as policing on the cheap and has wanted to stay clear of them.
"But I think the time has come, and I believe the chief constable agrees with me, that we have got to have a really effective and dynamic volunteer programme management that allows members of the public to play a part.
"There are some difficulties but there are areas where we can work with volunteers and we have to do that more."