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Knife crime, anti-social behaviour and police officer numbers – Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner faces questions on the year ahead

Posted on - 21st May, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Crime, Fylde News, Politics, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
Andrew Snowden is the current police and crime commissioner for Lancashire

To mark the start of the final year of his current term in office, the Local Democracy Reporting Service sat down with the county’s Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, Andrew Snowden, and put him under the spotlight with our questions and yours – on everything from antisocial behaviour and burglary to police officer numbers and knife crime.

See what he had to say in the Q&A below, or watch the interview in full below or on YouTube

Lancashire’s role as a pilot area for the government’s antisocial behaviour action plan will see it given £2m to target hotspot locations as a so-called “trailblazer”. That might be welcome, but is it really a visionary new policing strategy to deploy officers as a deterrent where there may be a problem? Isn’t the fact that it’s not happening already just down to there not having been the funding for it?

“For me, it’s about investing in the basics – and, actually, I do often think that that is overlooked. People are always looking for the new-fangled way of doing things. Something that I have been lobbying [about], which is why we are one of the pilot areas in Lancashire, is getting back to the basics of Peelian policing [the principles of the founder of Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel] – the police should be from and for the communities that they serve. And what that means for me in modern policing is that there is a visible, engaged policing presence in our communities and where there are hotspots of antisocial behaviour – yes, which might not present the most dangerous risk and threat that the police are [dealing with]…in terms of how they manage and deploy resource – but what it does do is make people feel unsafe in their local communities. The solutions to that are multifaceted, but a visible police presence is at the heart of it.

“Yes, we need the schools to play their role [and] councils, social services and youth services. We need youth provision in place [and] proper street lighting and CCTV. But where we know we’ve got a hotspot issue, having the ability to pile on extra resource above and beyond what is normally required in that area, for me is a really positive thing and should be welcomed – and I’m delighted Lancashire has been selected…because this is an idea I’ve been pushing for about 18 months now, which is [for the government to] give us a pot of money that we can use to target antisocial behaviour hotspots and build public confidence.”

Read more: Nicola Bulley: Independent review underway into Lancashire Police investigation

According to the government, this hotspot targeting also involves the use of “other uniformed authority figures”, like wardens – what will their role be and what will be the split between police and civilian roles in these areas?

“I was already starting to provide funding [for wardens] through the community safety partnerships [and] through my Safer Lancashire Neighbourhoods Fund. I’m going to continue to fund [those roles in that way]. I want that full £2m pounds to be spent on increased policing presence in local communities.

Lancashire has recruited an extra 612 police officers over the last three years – 100 more than were funded by the government’s uplift programme over that period. But the county is still 200 down on the 800 officers that were lost during the 2010s. Is it something to celebrate that Lancashire is 200 officers light compared to the position it was in 13 years ago?

“The [difference between the] 2010 numbers [and] the 2023 numbers [is] about 73 [fewer now than then], in terms of uniformed officers. The key thing that we’ve not to lose sight of, though, is the total headcount of Lancashire Constabulary [is] 700 higher – police staff and police officers – and the budget that we have is around £60m higher than it was in 2010. Part of that is because of the shifting nature of crime and crime prevention.

“[For example], the vast majority of financial transactions that are illegal are [done] online. The prevalence of online paedophiles and the ever-increasing access they have to the dark web requires skills that are not necessarily [those of] a traditional police officer. And therefore we in Lancashire have invested significantly in specialist resources and capabilities across the Constabulary, which are not necessarily warranted officers, to make sure that we have the right skills and capabilities.”

Twelve months ago, you called for an end to the need for people joining the police to either have a degree when they did so or obtain one as part of their training. You got your wish late last year – so will that enable the 612 new officers to be on the streets of Lancashire sooner?

“Part of the problem is there [are] a lot of police officers that are retiring as well. So actually, the total recruitment intake is around 1,300, just over 1300 officers. So it’s far higher than the 600 that we’ve actually recruited. Around 1,000 of those are [at] varying points [in] degree programmes. [But] a number of those degree programmes might have been started two years ago…so not all of those [do] we now need to wait three years [for their graduation]. What we will see from June this year is the first of the degree-holder entry programme [recruits] starting to [come through], plus all the officers that we recruited [on an exemption from the degree requirement] towards the back end of last year. So from June onwards, we see tranche after tranche…into the next couple of years of all those additional officers finishing training and becoming operationally independent and building up their experience and competence on the police frontline.”

Read more: Man jailed for ‘frenzied attack’ on sleeping victim

As commissioner, you’ve increased your share of the council tax by the maximum amount permitted for each of your two years in post. Your Conservative government hasn’t really left you any choice in that regard, has it? So when you say that 66 percent of respondents to your pre-budget survey wanted to see more funding for the police in Lancashire, do you think they would have felt the same if they realised that they were a large source of that funding?

“When we asked questions [about]…what percent would you be happy to pay extra in local council tax [for police funding]…it was a positive response to that. The percentage now is 32 to 34 percent [of the Lancashire Police budget] is funded by the taxpayers of Lancashire locally, and then around 66 to 68 percent by central government.

“What that does [mean], though, is areas like Lancashire, which have a lower Band D council tax base, cannot raise the same amount of funding as other areas. So, for example, for every percentage I put on the council tax…in Lancashire, if Essex do the same – a similar sized county – [that] generates a million pounds more of revenue [for them]. When the formula for the national elements of funding is produced…it needs…to be weighted to reflect the [different] areas and [their] ability to raise [local] funding.”

The Office for National Statistics police-recorded crime figures comparing December 2021 to December last year show total recorded crime in Lancashire was flat. Within that, there were some notable falls – burglary down two percent and drug offences 11 percent – but also some steep rises, like a 13 percent increase in shoplifting and a 29 percent increase in bike theft. Where there are significant falls in recorded crime, are you confident that the figures reflect the genuine position and not just people not being bothered to report it, because they think they won’t get a response?

“The reduction in burglary – if your house is burgled, you report it to the police, I think it’s fair to say. We’ve [also] seen a large decrease in the number of reports of antisocial behaviour. I’m a big believer that antisocial behaviour is an under-reported crime and therefore actually part of what I’ll be doing when I launch the antisocial behaviour campaign, which is part of this £2m pounds that we’ve got from the government… is encouraging people to report antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood crime and to direct them where the most quick and efficient ways [are] they can do that.

“Overall, [Lancashire is] one of the few force areas in the country…that has seen that reduction in overall crime. So I think it’s important to stop and say that is a great achievement, because if nothing else, that is [fewer] victims.”

Read more: Man found with stab wounds near Preston Fire Station

Offences in Lancashire involving knives and other sharp objects show a two thirds increase over the 12 years from 2010 – that’s quite a staggering increase, isn’t it?

“It’s sad and tragic – we have seen an increase in knives as weapons of choices…everywhere from the capital city all the way up to here in Lancashire. I’ve been working with some brilliant local charities who work in schools [and I’ve] provided additional funding through them to make sure that we get in and educate people on the dangers of carrying knives and sharing the tragic experiences. But then also [it’s about] not being afraid to use stop and search – some people don’t like [it], but…find me another way you can send police officers out …[to] take weapons off the street right now [from] people who are suspected of carrying them.”

You have a year to go on your truncated three-year term [the 2020 Police and Crime Commissioner elections were postponed because of the pandemic]. Will you run again or is this role a stepping stone for you?

“I will absolutely be re-standing for this job. I absolutely love [it and] I’m 100 percent committed to it. It is a job in which you can go out and have conversations with people across the county, come back to the office and say, ‘Look, what are we going to do about this?’ And you’re in charge. You do get people who question the role of Police and Crime Commissioner, [but] we don’t need to go to committees… we can immediately…put [issues] into the force and…hold them to account for performance in particular areas. I hope to be re-elected by the party to fight the election and hopefully have another four years to really cement in and deliver my fighting crime plan.”

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