Crime commissioner Tony Hogg yesterday fired a warning to Devon and Cornwall Police amid fears that it will miss a modest 2% reduction in crime this year.
While crime has fallen by 3.9% in the 12 months to the end of September, Mr Hogg said he was "seriously concerned" about performance after a surge in offences over the summer months.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer has admitted that the figures are "a worry" and that he was "not confident" of hitting the agreed target.
Mr Hogg said: "I think we are reaching an important watershed between the Chief Constable and me because, as I have said to him, this is about holding him to account, this is about my role on behalf of the public. Having put the precept up, people are entitled to expect an efficient police service and that crime, across the board, will be dealt with."
Mr Hogg also raised concerns that the force, which was once fourth, had slipped to 12th in a national table based on crimes per head of population. He added: "My concern is that this descent down the league table is going to continue.
"There is not much I can do about the summer crime figures now but what I can do is try to work with Shaun Sawyer to get us back into that top quartile and really address some key issues for the future. My concern is that, intuitively, Devon and Cornwall should be one of the safest places to live in the country.
"Yes, crime is falling, but it is falling quicker in 19 other areas. We should feel uncomfortable that we are not in the top ten, the top five or the top performing force across the piece."
He added: "As the public's representative, it's my duty to highlight areas where performance can be improved.
"I am pleased that more serious crime figures are reducing, but it's important to also address the other issues which matter to people every day.
"I have protected officer numbers in Devon and Cornwall, and I will continue to hold the Chief Constable to account for the efficient and effective delivery of my Police and Crime Plan. He is well aware of my concerns."
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics yesterday showed recorded crime up to the end of June 2013 fell by 6%.
More up-to-date figures, published simultaneously by the force, revealed that progress had now stalled to 3.9%, with worse figures expected before the end of the financial year.
Significant falls were seen in house burglary, down 14.1% to 3,830 crimes; robbery, down 15.3% to 376; theft of vehicles, which fell by 12.5% to 1,111 and incidents of criminal damage, which dropped from 17,001 to 15,119, or 11.1%. Shoplifting, though, has increased by 5.2%, from 7,308 to 7,685 crimes, while "other violent crime" is up 7% to 25,660 offences.
In previous years, the force has claimed that increases in drugs offences represented successful operations against drug dealers and addicts. So far this year drugs offences are down 7.2% to 4,463 crimes.
Deputy Chief Constable David Zinzan said: "We have 51 crimes per 1,000 of population, so we continue to be a safe place to live and work.
"Importantly, we have continued to cut crime, even after four years of cuts and additional savings of £7.5 million during this performance year.
"We saw excellent reductions during the performance year up until June when we were faced with one of our busiest summers for years.
"Devon and Cornwall faces particular challenges in the summer, policing an influx of approximately 10 million more people with no additional resources.
"This is great news for businesses and our communities but it does put unprecedented demands on our service.
"Our police and crime commissioner has made a commitment to keep police officer numbers above 3,000, but we are still 400 police officers, 414 police staff posts and £47 million lighter than three years ago. We have also made great progress towards police and crime commissioner Tony Hogg's commitment to focus resources on the most vulnerable groups – this is evidenced by increased reporting of crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual offences."
Mr Zinzan accepted there were challenges ahead in maintaining the reduction.
He added: "There is no doubt that nationally we are seeing an increase in some types of crime and Devon and Cornwall is no different.
"Areas like drink-related violence, antisocial behaviour and some sexual offences are a worry for many forces in the country. Although these figures show we are performing well, we are constantly analysing data and evolving the way in which we police, to give the best service possible to the people of Devon and Cornwall."
Sawyer: It’s not all about league tables
If anyone thought the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable was too cosy, it isn’t now, as Andy Greenwood reports.
Among the many concerns about the introduction of police and crime commissioners was that their key relationship with chief constables would be too close, and scrutiny of force performance conducted behind closed doors.
In Devon and Cornwall, it has taken Tony Hogg longer than some thought necessary to put the structures in place to put the debate over crime levels, and his task of holding Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer to account, into the full glare of public scrutiny.
One tactic he adopted was to record, and broadcast, albeit not live, his interviews with Mr Sawyer – a format which initially appeared to be too friendly and conversational.
But the game changed this week, with the first signs of tension between the commissioner and the chief constable, and most notably between their backroom teams, over latest crime figures.
In a 26-minute question-and-answer session, which has been released on YouTube, Mr Sawyer was at pains to point out that crime rates so far this year were down by 4% compared to 2012.
However he admitted a surge in offences over the summer was above that seen last year and that he was “not confident” of achieving the 2% targeted cut in crime for 2013-14. “You have set a target in agreement with me, I’m not sure we will get it,” Mr Sawyer said. “But violence with injury is down, robbery down, burglary down, burglary non-dwelling down, vehicle offences down, criminal damage down, drug trafficking offences down. So we have to be very careful when we talk of a total crime number in terms of are we looking in the right areas in terms of vulnerability, harm to people, harm to children and I would say, ‘yes we are’. But I’m not complacent because clearly those offences are taking place, there is a victim to be dealt with.”
Mr Sawyer said analysis had shown crime was down in 28 weeks of the last 52 and was stable over six weeks. He added: “It is the last 14 weeks where we have seen the spike.” Some of the increase, he said, was down to “summer policing”, when the region’s resident population is boosted by millions of visitors, but also due to increased confidence in reporting offences like sex crimes and domestic abuse.
Mr Hogg particularly raised concerns about the force’s faltering position in national league tables.
According to Mr Hogg, it is now ranked 16th out of 43, with the force having being outstripped by others where crime has fallen faster.
But Mr Sawyer said he would not be diverted from the priorities set out in Mr Hogg’s police and crime plan to chase places in an “unhelpful” table. “I think a number of forces are seeing increases in some crime types,” Mr Sawyer responded. “Shoplifting is up in 34 out of 43 forces, we see possession of weapons up in 17 forces, we see violence against the person up in 16 forces.
“I am really not concerned about what other forces are doing, I am concerned about the victims in Devon and Cornwall and the service we give here. To be candid, our focus here is on crimes which involve injury to the most vulnerable, not the larger volume crime areas which interestingly enough are the ones that are falling anyway.
“The league table of where we are with other forces is an unhelpful one because the figures you quote are quarterly figures and you have to remember we have just been through our busiest quarter.”
The chief constable said the “plan for the autumn is slightly unchanged” and remained focused on “vulnerability and victim reporting of harm”. But he said there would be an “increased focus around the evening and night time economy, public order offences and alcohol-related offences” as well as the category of “violence without injury”.
Mr Sawyer went on: “It is really important that we focus on the things we agreed in the police and crime plan and we put our resources there – into the hate crime, sexual offences, domestic abuse, harm against the vulnerable, harm against the elderly. For me that is the right thing to do.
“The total crime figure is an important area for me to look at, as I have been over the summer, for you to hold me to account on, but I am not going to take resources from that area of business and put it over here to deal with things that whilst a crime, and whilst there are victims for every crime, are not the areas we agreed to focus upon at the beginning of the year just to achieve a league position on total crime – I think that is the wrong thing to do.”
Latest crime figures with Deputy Chief Constable David Zinzan