By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins
THE cost of Dorset Police will increase by 6.2% in the coming financial year – adding £15 a year to the ‘average’ band D household.
Chief Constable James Vaughan said that the £255.58 annual charge will see the force, already one of the best performing in the country, continue to improve.
Mr Vaughan said it was his ambition for the force to step up from being judged ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ and said it already had crime in retreat and was improving detection rates.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill backed the increase – he says without it there could be 140 jobs lost and the service, effectively, downgraded to only dealing with 999 calls.
The Chief Constable revealed that the force was hopeful of recruiting 80 officers by the end of March – 30 more than the original target – and by the end of 2023 hoped to have 200 more than at the start of 2019/20 financial year.
Some of these have been part-funded by the government’s ‘uplift’ programme, but the force has found the cash for the additional posts and all of the on-costs.
Mr Vaughan said that about 80 new officers would be deployed to neighbourhood teams and he was ‘pretty confident’ the public would see more uniformed staff on the streets.
Lyme Regis has already been promised that new recruits will be based in the town when they arrive in West Dorset.
Mr Vaughan added that extra staff would allow better policing of areas where there was public concern and to also pump more resources into dealing with vulnerable children, county lines drugs gangs and improving the response to the public when they called for help.
He said he was delighted that more than three quarters of about 4,000 people who took part in a consultation backed the £15 a year increase to give him a £73.47million a year budget.
In his report to the Police and Crime Panel, Mr Vaughan said that, while the pandemic had led to big increases in demand for police services, overall it had helped reduce burglaries which had gone down in Dorset for three years in a row, and crime overall had dropped by 6%.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill, said his fear was that, as we came out of the pandemic, there would be a massive increase in crimes which people were currently unable to report, including domestic violence.
He said he was being kept awake at night by the effect the pandemic would have on overall mental health, especially among children and young people, and the likely increase in addiction and suicide and public order offences.
After almost three hours of debate, support for the budget was unanimous, although several councillors said they were worried about whether some residents would be able to afford the increases in overall council tax, given the predicted downturn in the economy and expected widespread job losses.
The Police and Crime Panel heard that work completed by the force during the year included a £9million upgrade to make all speed camera digital; a new control room system which went ‘live’ in the autumn and has helped reduce by 50% the time it takes to get through on the 101 number (down from eight to four minutes), and achieve more than 90% of 999 calls being answered within the set time.
The Chief Constable said all staff had received domestic abuse training during the year and more than 250 people were helped with home security advice by the force’s Bobby Van with plans underway for a second van.
The force has been judged to be in the top three across the country for public trust.
Mr Vaughan said the force currently has up to 40 officers suffering from COVID and has had a number critically ill in hospital over the past year.
He said he was proud to lead a force of men and women who has ‘stepped up’ to meet the challenge of the pandemic with many taking on extra duties to fill in for absent colleagues.