As we approach Christmas, it is always a good time to reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to the year ahead.
It has been another busy year here in Bedfordshire, dealing with really complex crime challenges which have been seen here and across the county – including increases in knife crime and serious youth violence. This has been a concerning development and is very much a national and local trend, we are working hard with partners and our communities to tackle this rise and try to keep our young people safe and steer them away from crime.
Sadly, we have seen some awful incidents including the murder of Azaan John Kaleem whose mother Roseann Taylor has shown incredible bravery to use his tragic death to educate others of the dangers of carrying knives. I’m never ceased to be amazed by the strength of families and the loved ones of those affected by crime, particularly when it has been so devastating. Every single crime has an effect and these can be long-lasting, so it is crucially important to ensure we give all victims, and their families, the very best service possible. To that end, this year has seen the launch of the Signpost Hub, a new approach to supporting those affected by crime in Bedfordshire. This reflects our determination to put victims at the heart of what we do.
We have also been leading the way in introducing innovative solutions, and another example of this was being the first force in the country to have a vehicle dedicated to test devices at a crime scene. The Cyber Van will help speed up the process of investigating online crime and shows how we are using technology to become more efficient in tackling new crime trends.
Elsewhere our Emerald team, which deals with domestic abuse and serious sexual offences, managed to secure the first conviction in the UK of a female offender for coercive control. Again, the victim, Alex Skeel, has been fantastic in raising awareness of male domestic abuse on the back of this landmark case.
Our Serious and Organised Crime Unit has secured some fantastic results including Operation Lattice which saw two men jailed for importing guns into the UK from the Czech Republic. Another incredible result and an example of this force punching well above its weight. And our regional Serious and Organised Crime Unit (led by Bedfordshire Police) which services the Eastern Region of England is considered the finest in the country.
These are just a few of the huge number of successful prosecutions we have managed during 2018 – from tackling community issues to bringing down drugs gangs, Bedfordshire Police is continually working hard to keep our communities safe.
All of this work has been carried out despite our funding challenges – being financed as a small rural force but having to deal with complex crime challenges usually seen in large metropolitan areas.
So, we have again been at the forefront and leading the way nationally in the campaign for proper funding for policing, lobbying hard throughout 2018 for more money to allow us to effectively police the county. That lobbying has included a lot of media work such a short documentary with Sky News which you may have seen and is due to run again over the festive period.
Police funding is a national issue, but we suffer from the existing outdated funding measures more than other forces. We are a special case in Bedfordshire, so I was delighted that we have received boosts from a Special Grant for £4.571m to pay for the work we have carried out tackling guns, gangs and knife crime so far this year, and also a potential increase in funding of around £8m for 2019/20. Although much of that money will be used to cover pay and pension increases which we have no control over, it’s important to say that we will invest as much as we can in more police officers – we know our communities want boots on the ground and you will definitely see an increase in officer numbers over the next year. We are also continually reviewing all of our functions to ensure the resources we have are focused on the issues that matter the most.
We still need a longer term solution to our funding challenges, so our lobbying will continue. Rest assured I will do everything in my power to ensure the people of Bedfordshire have the very best policing service we can provide.
Finally, as we approach this special time of the year, spending precious time with family and friends, I would ask you to spare a thought for all the men and women across the emergency services who will still be working hard to keep people safe.
There is no such thing as down time for policing. Criminals don’t take holidays and sadly things will still happen that require the police to protect people and deal with difficult situations. Rest assured that, when you need us, we will be there. While of course there may be some extra chocolates in our stations and plenty of festive cheer, our professionalism, care and determination to protect people from harm remains more steadfast than ever.
Policing is a passion not just a job. Officers and staff take great pride in being on the end of the phone, or arriving on scene to help someone in need. In these challenging financial times it’s increasingly the police who get called to situations often because other organisations can no longer provide the level of support to people in crisis that they once did.
As with every shift, this holiday period Bedfordshire Police officers will head out not knowing what danger they may might face – whose life they might end up saving. It’s all in a day’s work.
So please spare a thought while you are celebrating Christmas for all of the officers and staff who will be working through the holiday period so that everyone can have a happy, peaceful and safe Christmas. And Happy Christmas to you all.
Chief Constable Jon Boutcher