Monthly column: What the PCC does and why I do it

299
Former Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye (Conservative). Image: Office of the PCC
Former Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye (Conservative). Image: Office of the PCC

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) make decisions, set the direction of the police force with the Chief Constable, and are the voice of the public when it comes to policing. For me, my decisions as PCC have been largely influenced by two key events which occurred before I was elected.

As a mentor on a parenting programme for young offenders in prison who had children of their own, I got to really learn about how societal failure, the intentional or unintentional neglect of children by adults, and systemic gaps mean that so many of our young people fall through the cracks, and into the arms of dangerous, exploitative criminal gangs.

Thereafter as a Special Constable in Bedfordshire Police, I got to see firsthand the intensity and pressures of policing. I also got to learn very quickly that due to the level of demands on officers in Bedfordshire, there is no hiding place and incredible amounts of work are being done, often unnoticed to members of the public, to keep us all safe.

Now as Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, it is my privilege to use these experiences to positively shape our police force, protect the most vulnerable, and push for better service for residents.

It is therefore no surprise that the top priority for my first term as PCC was to recruit more officers and focus on retention. Without this foundation of growth and improved officer retention, there was nothing to build on in future.

I am proud that since assuming office, Bedfordshire Police now has its highest-ever number of police officers. Walking around our buildings, you certainly notice this. Under my watch, we have not only met our recruitment targets but also exceeded them. We are retaining more of our new recruits, as well as our experienced officers too.

Bedfordshire Police was among the worst forces for officer retention in 2021. By focusing on improved organisational culture, investing in the working environment of the workforce, and holding the Chief Constable accountable for these, retention is improving.

I could also talk about the milestone of the highest-ever number of dedicated community police officers which will be in place by 31 March 2024 as agreed with the Chief Constable, or the fact that Bedfordshire Police became the first police force to be rated outstanding by His Majesty’s Inspectorate.

These are all achievements that came about because of a focused commitment to growth and retention.

Close to my heart also has been the plight of young people in Bedfordshire from a safeguarding point of view. As a father to teenage children who attend local schools, I am under no illusions as to the threats they face, especially online.

The harms awaiting them are mainly removed from plain sight, and while I have invested the highest ever amount of funding into a dedicated community policing team in Bedfordshire, I admit that even these officers, however visible they are in our communities, will not be able to see the harms our young people face on their mobile phones.

Bedfordshire Police has a dedicated team that works to protect vulnerable children and arrest those who prey on them. This is now one of the most rapidly growing teams in the force given the growth in demand. We cannot keep up, but each day, something is being done to safeguard a young child in Bedfordshire from criminal and sexual exploitation by the police.

So whether it is my now nearly 100 school visits, the doubling of Bedfordshire Police’s Education and Diversion team, me freeing up nearly £500,00 for more intervention through our Home Office-funded Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, I know there is a lot more to do.

With the record number of officers now in place under my watch as PCC, the foundation is set for the next phase of leading Bedfordshire Police to become a better-performing police force. I am ambitious to do exactly that.

This is a monthly guest column provided by Festus Akinbusoye, 
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner (Conservative).
It is published unedited and does not reflect
the views of the Bedford Independent.