10th March 2014
Tackling domestic violence is a key priority.
I welcome the adoption of Clare’s Law which will give people the opportunity to make an educated decision about the future of their relationship. It will also strengthen the framework around the release of information about the violent past of partners. This is a valuable tool in our work to pre-empt domestic violence.
In my manifesto, I made a promise to the people of Dorset, that if I was elected I would bring Clare’s Law to Dorset. These new powers will allow people to seek the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.
Domestic Violence is complex, deep-rooted and societal. It is a huge problem and one that we need to address very seriously at every level.
Clare’s Law will give people the right to ask the police if their partner has a history of serial domestic violence and also give the police the option of making a disclosure about any previous incidents. Clare’s Law will not just protect adults from abuse, but children also. Domestic Violence is devastating for families and the damage is far reaching.
I look forward to seeing the evaluation of Clare’s Law in Dorset and I hope that the new powers will give people more confidence to seek help if they believe they are at risk from harm.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Posted by Martyn Underhill at 11:13am
18th February 2014
Today marks a historic day. The launch of the first Mental Health Concordat. I am delighted to have been involved in the work leading up to today. Over the past few months we have seen several new initiatives and research in relation to mental health provision in England. These build on the Bradley and Adebowale reports and the HMIC report “A criminal use of police cells”
MIND and Victim Support have published a fascinating and harrowing document linking persons who are mentally ill to an increased likelihood of becoming a victim. The report also highlights that victims of crime who are mentally ill have a lesser experience from law enforcement agencies than most. It is essential reading for all law enforcement professionals and PCC’s.
CQC published their report Monitoring the Health Act 2012/13, which highlights the continued rise of people with mental health issues along with the inconsistencies relating to out of hours cover.
The Probation Inspectorate have published their inspection report on the Treatment of Offenders with learning disabilities within the Criminal Justice System
The Government published their report called Closing the Gap, a 25 point plan to bring equity and parity between those suffering mental health as opposed to physical health issues
There is so much in the above documents I could highlight, however, I think this paragraph from the Government itself in “Closing the Gap” summarises our issues:
“People who use mental health services, and those that care for them, continue to report gaps in provision and long waits for services. There is still insufficient support within communities for people with mental health problems. In some areas there have been stories of people of all ages being transferred sometimes hundreds of miles to access a bed. We are not yet making an impact on the enormous gap in physical health outcomes for those with mental health problems. And so much more could be done to promote good mental health and prevent mental ill health”
Notwithstanding all of the above, today is a watershed for people in mental health crisis. The Government, and all agencies that deal with mental health crisis publish a Concordat, an agreement on what is expected of agencies in relation to people in crisis. As the Chair of the PCC Mental Health Working Group, I have signed this document on behalf of PCCs.
The very fact that we needed a Concordat displays the crux of the problem, nationally and here in Dorset - we are not getting it right. This ground breaking document acknowledges the need for the medical profession to provide sufficient resources to cope with those in crisis in their area. This translates to three key areas that are affecting policing across England on a daily basis. The medical profession need to provide sufficient beds for those in crisis and to provide sufficient mental health professional cover, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It also translates to the Ambulance service providing transport for people in crisis, 24/7. The Concordat also strengthens the desire NOT to place people in crisis inside Police Custody Suites.
In 2012/13 in Dorset, 157 persons suffering mental health crisis entered Police Custody Suites. Staggeringly, this included five children 17 years old or younger.
Every one of those 157 cases represents a failure of the system, a failure of society to provide suitable safe health based care for people who are desperately ill. And it has to stop.
So what is the role of PCCs nationally?
There are two key areas for PCCs to develop, accepting that their role brings partners and people together.
1) A local solution
The issuing of the Concordat, and the numerous Government initiatives currently underway, needs to be translated to local solutions. Every PCC needs to reach agreement with their local health partners to reduce the demand on policing through improved primary and secondary mental health care. In other words, we need to convert the national Concordat to a local Concordat, signed up to by all relevant partners. In Dorset and across England, this is no mean feat. The amount of agencies and NHS Departments involved is staggering.
2) Local Governance
The provision of multi agency governance of mental health is disparate and fragmented. Some areas have fully engaged Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWB’s) with PCCs and Police sitting on them. Others (like Dorset) don’t. The problem with the HWB approach is that some areas have many HWBs for one policing area. A county wide or Force wide approach is needed.
So accepting that the governance does not necessarily have to involve HWBs, what other governance is there? Well most areas have Mental Health Boards, but membership is invariably health based and often doesn’t cover the whole policing area. That is why in some areas PCCs have set up their own Strategic Mental Health Boards, overseeing mental health provision across the Force area. Ensuring a policing voice is heard and that mental health governance becomes a multi agency approach, not just health is the second PCC challenge.
PCCs are here to not just hold Police Forces to account. When 20% of policing time is abstracted, dealing with health related issues, it is time to hold our health partners to account too
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Posted by Martyn Underhill at 11:39am
7th February 2014
This week I made a big decision. A decision that Parliament, through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (The Act) placed on my shoulders alone as the democratically elected and publicly accountable Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset. That decision was to raise the police element of the council tax by 1.96%.
I made this decision (which will cost the average Band D council tax paying family an extra £3.60 per year) in order to help safeguard policing over the next four years in Dorset. This decision has been taken in the context of huge cuts to funding and increasing demands on emergency services.
The Act states that my proposals for the precept must be considered in public by a Police and Crime Panel, which happened on Thursday 6 February.
The Panel is made up of 17 members, many of which are councillors from the local authorities across Dorset. The Panel is not a decision making committee but has a role in scrutinising my proposals. The Act says that they can veto a precept proposal once, if two thirds of the panel vote for that course of action.
At Thursday’s Panel hearing, after much debate, a 16 strong Panel voted 9 / 7 against the proposal. I stand by my decision as I am deeply involved and informed on the issues and I am of the firm belief that it is in the best interest of Dorset over the medium term. Importantly, I have been consulting for months on these proposals and 74% of respondents support them. That response was an essential element of my consideration.
Unfortunately I feel that many of the Panel members yesterday arrived having made their minds up due to external pressures and parochial political influences.
I have received three questions from the Bournemouth Echo in response to Thursday’s hearing. I would like to answer them publically:
1) What is my reaction to criticism from Dorset Police and Crime Panel?
It was quite clear at the Panel, that local politics swayed some Councillors. In particular, local pledges to not raise Council Tax dominated a ‘pan Dorset’ discussion on our policing budget. I have always said that the Police and Crime Panel should consist of members of the public directly elected to the Panel at the same time as the local elections, to hold the PCC to account. This would prevent this kind of local party political agenda swaying decision making. Those members of the public should represent the eight authority areas in Dorset and should be paid posts for 25 days per year. They would work to a mandate set by the public, to scrutinise pan Dorset policing decisions.
2) Is the process of setting a precept fair?
The role of Police and Crime Commissioners and Police and Crime Panels is set out in statute. Democratic accountability for policing is the responsibility of Police and Crime Commissioners who were elected to hold forces to account. The majority of members of the Police and Crime Panel are appointed from their own local authority. Panels provide a scrutiny role and have a power of veto, but are not directly elected by the public for this role. As set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, the Panel can veto on the first occasion, the precept proposed by the PCC, but only when two thirds of the Panel members vote for a veto. Ultimately, the decision regarding the role and powers of the Panel was agreed by Parliament and not locally. For this to change, Parliament would need to revisit the Act.
3) Was the decision made democratically?
Yes. I was democratically elected to oversee policing and crime in Dorset. A key responsibility of this post is to decide on the precept tax level that is in the best interest of residents and Dorset Police over the medium term. I am determined to hand over a debt free and efficient police force to my successor. I owe that to Dorset.
I have been left disappointed by events over the last few weeks and at the panel itself. I received intense political lobbying by Bournemouth politicians, intent on receiving my support to help them achieve their promise not to raise the council tax in Bournemouth before the next local elections. To pledge a 4 year zero rise in Council Tax during a deep recession and unprecedented cuts to public spending is naïve at best, and foolish at worst. This is particularly so when it is understood that the Police and Fire elements of the council tax are not a decision for the Council to make. I was disillusioned to find that some panel members voted according to their local political manifesto and not on the pan Dorset needs of Dorset Police.
I am proud that my democratic responsibilities are to the whole of Dorset. The reason I stood for election was to keep politics out of policing. I will make decisions based on fact, knowledge, understanding of policing and the views of the public, not on political influence or lobbying.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Posted by Martyn Underhill at 8:09pm
30th January 2014
It’s incredible to think that it is almost February. It has been a busy start to the year.
2014 began with a visit to Bournemouth Islamic Centre & Central Mosque. I had a really interesting chat with the Imam about his congregation. I was impressed with their fantastic facilities and felt a real community spirit from the people I met. I also held meetings with the Gypsy Roma Traveller Community from Christchurch, which was a great insight into their community.
I also spent an evening with the Boscombe angels, having spent a similar night before Christmas with the Weymouth street pastors. The weather on that occasion was less kind! I am full of admiration for the angels and pastors in helping to look after the vulnerable in our community, which is especially challenging on wet and cold winter nights. As PCC, my role is to ‘join up the dots’ and I am keen to support such groups and explore expanding the pastor initiative to areas which don’t currently have the scheme.
My first PCC forum of the year took place in Wimborne. I was pleased to see such support at the forum for Neighbourhood Justice Panels. Those present also expressed interest in the late night levy debate and concern over the ease of access to alcohol.
I find the forums so interesting. Each area in Dorset has generic themes such as alcohol, mental health and anti-social behaviour but then each area also has its own agenda. Wimborne centred on shoplifting, whilst my later forum at Bridport dwelled on the possible badger cull and body-worn cameras.
This month is a busy time for our Finance teams as they prepare our budgets. I look forward to the next Dorset Police and Crime Panel meeting on February 6th which will determine our funding streams for the next year. That meeting will be webcast, so you can follow the events via http://webcasting.dorsetforyou.com/core/. Don’t forget our precept consultation is live until 31 January, so you can give me your views on a proposed precept rise here. We are delighted with the response so far and appreciate all the feedback we have received.
As the financial pinch continues, the Chief Constable and I both need to be assured that we are exploring all options of income generation within the Force. The Force is currently advertising for an Income Generation & Sponsorship Manager. It is important for us to further examine the concept of sponsorship and to identify local or national opportunities. The post, which is self funding, is another example of how we are working to meet the cuts.
This month, I have also met with the Policing Minister Damian Green to discuss Neighbourhood Justice Panels. This is a really exciting area of work and I am delighted to have the support of Dorset MPs, in particular Oliver Letwin who attended our meeting. I look forward to driving this project forward in Dorset and building on our current pilots. I look with envy at Hampshire, who already has two innovative enhanced schemes in place. I hope to recreate the same in Dorset.
On 16th January I delivered a key note speech at an important conference on the national Troubled Families programme. The event at Bovington Park was held jointly by Bournemouth Borough Council, Dorset County Council and the Borough of Poole. I am working with our three top tier authorities in relation to Early Intervention and it is so crucial that Early Intervention works in synergy with the Troubled Family agenda.
The third week of the month was very much centred on national and regional work. I attended an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) conference to hear about changes in the way IPCC, with its new resources, will tackle police complaints. I have always made clear my view that police should not investigate the police, so I welcome a move towards that, but there is still a long way to go!
This month also saw the inaugural meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Transition Board, in which the 3 representative PCC’s (Mathew Ellis, Jane Kennedy and myself) met with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), Chief Constables and the Home Office to start implementing the “Parker Review”. I am enormously proud to be part of the ACPO review, helping to re-shape the ACPO role in a fast moving and changing landscape.
I then attended a gathering of all PCC’s, also in London. We discussed various issues with Damian Green the Policing Minister and Keith Bristow from the National Crime Agency. I then made a presentation to PCC’s on Mental Health issues, which I shall touch on later in the blog.
I also met with the region’s PCCs in Swindon this month to discuss regional approaches to many aspects of policing, in a wish to improve services to the public and drive down costs.
My team and I are very active at the moment, devising a cyber crime awareness campaign that we will deliver to every household in Dorset. I will update you on this, but it is clear that cyber crime is at the forefront of the publics mind, as well as the Governments and mine. It is the new major threat, and I have a responsibility to ensure that all of our 750,000 residents are well versed in ways to stay safe online. The awareness campaign is also an excellent opportunity to help raise awareness to parents and our youth of cyber bullying, and sexting, which are both tormenting our next generation across the County. Cyber bullying and ‘trolling’ disgusts me and we must make sure that our young people (and their carers) are equipped with knowledge of how to deal with it.
I cannot dwell on cyber bullying without making a reference to mental health issues in Dorset. As your PCC, I have become very involved nationally, working with the Government, Home Office, senior police officers and NHS England to ensure consistency in primary and secondary mental health provision across England. I chair the PCC Mental Health Group, working to reduce the huge amount of time police officers spend dealing with issues that are the not in their remit. It is time that mental health trusts and agencies ‘stepped up to the plate’ and provided better 24 hour cover (and more beds) for those in crisis.
This equally applies in Dorset, where people in crisis are still being taken into police custody as a place of safety because of a shortage of mental health beds and professionals. I am working to change this and you may have heard that my office is working with the Mental Health Trust to pilot a street triage service for officers from April this year.
Next month, the Government will issue a new mental health Concordat between key agencies (including PCC’s) which aims to start addressing some of these issues. I shall blog separately about this, nearer the time.
One of the key events of this month was last week’s victims forum in Dorchester. I find these really humbling, where victims are brave enough to tell me about their experiences and their journey so that we identify best practice, and learn from mistakes. Thank you to everyone who shared their issues.
So, after a talk at the Wallisdown, Winton and Ensbury Park Forum, our first month is drawing to a close with much achieved, but still more to be done!
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Posted by Martyn Underhill at 1:19pm
23rd December 2013
As we prepare to welcome a New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Force, partners, volunteers and the public for their hard work over the last year.
Since becoming Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner just over a year ago, I have put great emphasis on ‘working together’. With further cuts to our budget, there is no greater time to co-operate and to reduce the gap between the police and public. Crime continues to fall and public confidence in policing is rising. That is testament to the dedication, integrity and professionalism of our police officers, staff and volunteers.
However, the funding settlement remains challenging. There are only so many efficiency savings that the Force can make and difficult decisions are having to be made. I remain committed to protecting neighbourhood policing to fight crime and to provide a reassuring presence across Dorset. Therefore, we have to look at other ways to save money. This week we announced plans to explore the concept of a strategic alliance with Devon and Cornwall. Both forces are facing ‘real and significant challenges, to achieve further savings above and over what has already been made. This process cannot go on indefinitely. It is not possible to continually withdraw resources from Force areas before it starts to have a detrimental effect on the communities we serve. We have examined all options carefully to provide efficient policing across the region and are continuing to seek viable options. I look forward to working with our neighbouring Force in examining whether this is the right option for Dorset and for our region.
However, we remain positive and continue to look for ways to address the funding issue. I am committed to strengthening the Force and investing in new technology to future-proof our abilities to fight crime. Earlier this week, I outlined my proposals to increase the police precept to 1.95% for 2014/15. This equates to 7 pence weekly increase, or a rise from £183.51 to £187.09 annually, for a Band D household. This will enable investment in the following priorities, to benefit Dorset residents.
1) Recruitment of 16 new Police Officers
2) 300 body cams for officers across Dorset, which will increase accountability, public confidence, convictions and capture the atmosphere in Domestic Abuse cases.
3) A cyber crime awareness campaign
4) Seven new vehicles to increase visibility and access to rural communities.
We must strengthen our Force for the future.
Volunteers are helping us on that journey. Through the addition of more volunteers, we are creating a more visible, approachable and responsive Police Force not only in the urban conurbations of Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth, but further afield in our more remote rural communities. We are committed to tackling rural crime and are investing in extra vehicles next year to reach our more remote communities. 2014 will also see more investment in new technology such as body cams and the recruitment of another sixteen Police Officers.
I am also delighted with the progress made in addressing victim needs. We have received national recognition for our new Dorset Victims Bureau which Victims Commissioner, Baroness Newlove officially opened in November. We are already holding victim forums and next year will see the launch of a new victim’s website. We have plenty to celebrate.
I would like to thank the Force, partners, volunteers for their dedication, commitment and professionalism. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the public for working with us on policing and crime issues.
We value your contribution in helping to make Dorset a safer place to live, work and visit.
The festive period is a busy time for the police but I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
Posted by Martyn Underhill at 11:28am