1. The Commissioner introduced the Annual Report, highlighting the excellent work done by his office in supporting the transition from the previous Commissioner and the work done to implement his Safer in Kent Plan. He thanked all staff, past and present, for their support during his first year in office. He also thanked the Panel for its ongoing contribution, welcoming its support and challenge.
2. The Commissioner drew the Panel’s attention to several areas of progress. In particular he noted the increase in police officer numbers, the first increase for several years. He also advised the Panel that the Force had recruited additional firearms officers and was now near to the planned number. The Commissioner also told the Panel that he was pleased to report his support for maintaining the number of PCSO’s at 300 and that the Volunteer Police Cadet Scheme had been established.
3. The Commissioner drew attention to the funding he had provided to support people with mental health issues in order to decrease demand on the police. He pointed out that he had provided funding to help the Force clear a backlog of applications for firearms licenses.
4. The Commissioner drew the Panel’s attention to his duty to challenge the Force where necessary and said that he had challenged the Force on its use of reserves and had refused to agree to some projects where the business case was not convincing enough.
5. The Commissioner also said that he had improved engagement with Councils, MP’s and Ministers across the political spectrum.
6. The Panel was pleased to note the establishment of the Volunteer Police Cadet Scheme and asked for a full report in due course. While expressing support for the maintenance of PCSO numbers the Panel sought an assurance that they would be deployed in the communities and that each PCSO would remain in a particular area for as long as possible. The Panel noted the Commissioner’s support for PCSOs and comment that he will continue to press the Chief Constable to retain their visibility within local communities.
7. Panel members said that some of their constituents took the view that there was little point in reporting incidents to the police as they did not do anything. The Commissioner said that his Plan makes it clear that crime is important no matter where it takes place, and crime and ASB remain key priorities for Kent Police. He added that resources were stretched but that reporting was always important as it could affect funding.
8. The Panel drew the Commissioner’s attention to his priority of “cutting crime” and asked if it was being achieved. The Commissioner acknowledged that recorded crime had increased and that although certain categories of crime had decreased violent crime was up and new categories, notably cybercrime, had been introduced into the figures.
9. The Panel asked whether there was a hierarchy of priorities in the Commissioner’s Plan as he had, on separate occasions, highlighted various priorities as being the most important. The Panel noted the Commissioner’s view that he had 3 guiding principles set out in his “Plan on a Page” and that all his priorities related to these principles.
10. The Panel noted expenditure on Smartphones for officers (£2m) and asked whether the money could have been better spent elsewhere. The Commissioner advised that this was capital expenditure which could not be spent on revenue matters but also said use of the smartphones would save each officer about one and a half hours per shift in reduced paperwork.
11. The Panel drew the Commissioner’s attention to his priority of focussing on front-line policing but noted that his report did not mention the 101 number which, the Panel felt, was part of the front-line service. The Panel noted the Commissioner’s view that the 101 service was not as good as it should be. The Commissioner explained that the public are becoming more vigilant which had increased 999 demand, and answering 999 calls had to be the priority. He said the Force is undertaking work in relation to staffing and will also be implementing online crime reporting before the end of the year.
12. The Panel drew attention to the reference in the report to enhanced public engagement and asked what additional information the Commissioner had gained from this consultation. The Commissioner advised the Panel that it had improved the quality of information he received and that it enabled more people to speak to him directly, when they might not have been so willing to engage with the police directly and gave use of the 101 number and child grooming as examples.
13. The Panel asked about the effectiveness of body worn cameras. The Commissioner advised that there was evidence that they had led to a decline in frivolous complaints, earlier guilty pleas, and in some circumstances allowed crimes to progress where the victim did not support a prosecution. The Panel asked for a fuller report at a later date.
RESOLVED that the Panel note the Commissioner’s Annual Report and that the Panel publish a report, approved by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, in response as per the legislative requirements.