Western Morning News puts questions to police candidates
With just days to go until the people of Devon and Cornwall elect their first police and crime commissioner, the 10 candidates have outlined their views on the difficult issues of raising council tax, cutting crime and boosting the number of "bobbies on the beat".
Whoever triumphs in the landmark police and crime commissioner vote on Thursday will face major challenges in steering the force over the next four years.
They will take office at the half way point of a four-year, £50 million budget cut imposed on Devon and Cornwall Police during which 700 officers – one-in-five – are to be lost along with 500 police staff.
Among the first priorities for the new commissioner will be to set the force's budget for 2013-14 amid warnings that accepting the Government's offer of freezing council tax – currently £159.66 for a band D property – in exchange for a 1% increase in grant would leave a further budget shortfall on £1.6 million.
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Unsurprisingly, the 10 candidates in Devon and Cornwall were split on the issue.
Independent candidate William Morris, from Penzance in West Cornwall, said accepting the Government's offer "would be a knife at the throat of our police force". He said a 2% increase in bills would "protect our police numbers, restore police morale and bring safer streets to Devon and Cornwall".
Labour's Nicky Williams also suggested a "very low increase in the precept" saying: "Accepting the offer of a freeze now would drive a coach and horses through the Devon and Cornwall Police budget."
Tony Hogg, the Conservative candidate, said his "inclination" was not to accept the offer because it would bring "bigger challenges downstream".
In the opposite camp were independents Ivan Jordan, from Exeter, and Plymouth businessman Tam Macpherson.
Mr Jordan said: "I would not increase the council tax precept but would accept the Government's offer of a 1% increase, for at least one year. Funding issues will not be solved by raising more taxes."
"Here in the Westcountry many of us are feeling the pinch of recession," Mr Macpherson added. "It would be foolhardy not to recognise this and work within present financial restrictions."
UKIP's Robert Smith said: "Full publicity and implementation of our policies of reconnecting the police to their communities, zero tolerance of criminal behaviour and always supporting victim over the criminal will ensure that crime or criminal behaviour will not pay."
Graham Calderwood, an independent candidate from St Ives in West Cornwall, added: "Drugs and alcohol addiction cause so much crime. People steal, burgle etc to feed their habits. We reduce crime by getting them treatment and advice."
Former police detective Brian Blake, the Lib-Dem candidate, also highlighted the impact of alcohol. He added: "Part of that increase was a rise in violent crime and as 60% of violent crime is alcohol fuelled it doesn't take a genius to work out a solution."
The new commissioner, who will be paid £85,000-a-year, will replace the current unelected police authority, made up of local councillors and independent members.
In addition to setting the force's budget, the commissioner will also be tasked with setting out the strategic vision for policing although day-to-day, operational control will remain in the hands of the chief constable.
Chief among public concerns has been for visible policing, "more bobbies on the beat".
But the model adopted by Devon and Cornwall Police to cope with the cuts will see the number of neighbourhood officers halve.
Candidates spoke of the need to greater utilise special constables and police community support officers (PCSOs) to help provide a more visible presence in communities, particularly in a large rural force such as Devon and Cornwall.
Meanwhile, independent John Smith, a former chairman of the police authority, said the notion of "bobbies on the beat" was "a rather outdated concept". He said: "We need the police to work as efficiently as they can at combating crime and they need that work to be done in a 'highly visible' way – high visibility both gives confidence and reduces crime. Those highly visible officers can be police, PCSOs or voluntary – so long as they are competent and equipped to do the work."
Another former authority chairman Brian Greenslade, who is also standing as an independent, pledged to reduce the cuts to officer number and maintain funding for PCSOs to ensure high-profile community policing.
He said: "To achieve this the "thin blue line" needs to get thicker and I have already written to all 18 MPs for our area asking them to lobby for the release of the £5 million of police grant the Government holds back from Cornwall, Devon and the Isles of Scilly each year."
The police and crime commissioner election takes place on Thursday with the result being announced the following day.