OPINION - I re-opened police stations and won back trust: London should do the same

Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez outside Honiton Police Station (handout)
Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez outside Honiton Police Station (handout)

When police forces closed police enquiry offices 15 years ago, Britain was a different place, with severe financial pressures on public services after the financial crash of the late Noughties, and technology which wasn’t yet fit for the 21st century.

As a police and crime commissioner in the South West, I know that there has been a huge investment into policing since then. However, it has not yet been matched by an increase in public confidence, the relationship on which our policing model depends for safer communities.

My force has seen officer numbers rise to record levels through an uplift funded first by local taxpayers, and then through millions of pounds worth of Home Office funding. That money is making a difference, but it will take time to be felt on the streets as officers are recruited, trained and cleared for independent patrol.

In the meantime people tell me they want policing to be back in their cities, towns and villages, visible and by their side. Reopening police enquiry offices was a swift way I could show the people I serve that I had listened, and that their investment had resulted in a tangible difference.

So far, 13 police enquiry offices have been opened or reopened around Devon and Cornwall and five more are due in this police and crime plan term. Thousands of residents are now much closer to a police station with a staffed front desk. These are places of safety where a friendly face can give prevention advice, help a victim report a crime or seek help from the victim services I commission.

It’s been one of the more popular projects I have initiated since I was elected to office in 2016. Not only was it delivered on time and on budget, it created jobs in towns around the force area.

What really sealed the deal on this was the fact that policing technology has changed so that the brilliant police enquiry officers we hired can now deal with electronic communications to the force’s 101 non-emergency contact service, so they are effective even when not dealing with face-to-face enquiries.

Unsurprisingly this project has been a popular one, with 76 per cent of people agreeing that accessible face-to-face contact via a police enquiry office increases their confidence in local policing — a figure I might well heed if I were policing the capital.

Alison Hernandez is Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly