Blog: Different opportunities for engagement

For the last few years, the Chief Constable and I have held an annual public online webchat which always proves very interesting. This year’s event, held earlier this month, was the most hectic chat we have hosted yet. This webchat is not a substitute for public meetings which, sadly, had to be suspended because of the pandemic, but were originally designed to provide different opportunities for engagement with local people.

Being available and accessible to Suffolk people and businesses, I believe, is key to my role as your Police and Crime Commissioner. Listening to ideas and views is particularly helpful when making decisions on budgets, council tax and the future direction of our force.

There was huge variety of comment and questions on the webchat, not surprisingly there is continued interest in what can be done to increase uniformed police visibility particularly in our market towns and urban areas. To reassure you, I confirm officer numbers will rise to around 1400 by March 2023 as the third phase of the government’s national uplift programme for police recruitment has been confirmed. This increased officer strength is much higher than when I was elected nine years ago and is very good news for us all.

Speeding and driving standards were also raised and I can also confirm maintaining roads policing strength will be part of the new Suffolk Police and Crime Plan (more on this later) which will be crucial for our busy road network.

As in other forums, I appreciate the anxiety many of you have regarding the prevalence of illegal drugs and the associated criminality and violence. The Constabulary has made very good progress in this area during the last year and the number of county lines in Suffolk currently existing is very low. The multi-agency approach is making a great difference and has been recognised at ministerial level; that said, there is no room for complacency and this work continues relentlessly.

There was a request to hold webchats more regularly which I will certainly consider. Linked to this, I was looking recently at the data for online “traffic or visitors” which increased significantly during the pandemic. For those interested in statistics, last month the Constabulary had over 80,000 website visitors, 74,000 Twitter followers and 91,000 Facebook followers. Hopefully you agree this is an impressive level of interest and public interaction.

As society emerges from the pandemic and life returns to normality, we are planning our series of public meetings for next year and I’m really looking forward to holding these events once more since there is nothing quite like hearing from you at first-hand. Technology has worked wonders, and I expect we will settle on a mixture of online communication and public face-to-face sessions in the future.

Special interest groups and professional bodies are also starting to hold discussion groups and events and several meetings are already in my diary for next year. This is very encouraging and a strong sign we are learning to live with the pandemic and get on with our lives.

I mentioned earlier the new Suffolk Police and Crime Plan. It is a requirement for all PCCs to draft and consult on a new plan for publication within a year of the elections. I am particularly grateful to all of you who responded to our online consultation on the draft plan. Although the feedback is still being analysed it’s already clear the overwhelming requests are to improve communications, increase police visibility and take a more robust response to anti-social behaviour. These responses will help shape the new plan which builds on the previous plan and contains some exciting changes and new areas of focus. I realise there is still a great deal of change in society currently and this will be reflected in my plan but remember the wise words of Churchill, which I believe are very appropriate here, “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often,” so let’s do this together.

Published in the East Anglian Daily Times November 2021