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Court delays are critical for victims, PCCs warn

PCCs say their first year in office has revealed that major challenges lie ahead.

Following a delayed election caused by the pandemic, Police and Crime Commissioners took office a year ago with fresh commitments to the public.

A year on - and one quarter of their time in office gone – big issues are now on the agenda, not least rebuilding public trust following the murder of Sarah Everard.

But expected tensions between PCCs and Chiefs have not publicly materialised.

Leicester PCC Rupert Matthews told Police Oracle: “The highlight was finding out how good everything is. I’d heard horror stories about how things were elsewhere so I was quite prepared to find skeletons in the closet. And I haven’t.”

PCCs also united with staff groups to challenge the Home Office decision to impose a pay freeze on officers and staff.

A key theme has been the changing nature of crime.

Lockdown pushed some gangs out of urban areas to target less secure agri-businesses and increase illegal hare coursing.

Mr Mathews said: “Getting our rural crime team set up was good and we’re looking to expand it.”

Delivery creating unforeseen issues has also been a challenge for the new politicians.

He said: “Farmers were complaining about hare coursing and the people on the end of the line dodn’t know what it was. That’s understandable if you live in a city; in the same way someone from a rural area wouldn’t know about modern slavery.”

Throughout the year, forces have made decisions to re-open stations. Mr Matthews said one change had been using resources better to reconnect officers and staff.

He said: “We’ve got the training academy on site so it’s really easy to tweak things.”

The big issue, which is now a major focus for the Home Office is violence against women and girls (VAWG).

Durham’s PCC Joy Allen has brought all victims’ support services in house.

The current provider, Victim Care and Advice Service, will deliver support under the OPCC in a move designed to promote closer relationships between Durham Constabulary and other agencies.

Commissioner Allen said: “Everything I do as Commissioner has been to make the lives of local people – especially victims of crime and anti-social behaviour – better and safer. We have made great steps by listening to and involving the people who need and benefit from that help.”

She additionally appointed three new safety champions who are there to represent victims and make sure planning, policy and commissioning decisions reflect their needs.

“I am delighted with the improvements we have made during this year, and I look forward to delivering even more going forward,” she said.

But improvements for victims will only happen if the court case backlog is reduced and PCCs have no power to influence outcomes.

Hampshire PCC Donna Jones has vocally challenged the Crown Prosecution Service locally and at the APCC/NPCC Summit.

But the numbers aren’t significantly moving in the right direction.

Norfolk’s PCC Giles Ophen-Smellie said: “I’m frustrated that no single person has the authority to grip issues here. The CJS is not the single system the title suggests but rather a loose alliance of organisations.

“The result can be dysfunctional with a tendency to focus on management issues of the components rather than the needs of victims or perpetrators of crime. The consequence is that there are too many delays, which in turn means that justice is too often being denied.”

He has said that the state of the CJS will be top on his agenda as he enters his second year.

The Norfolk PCC added: “My first year as PCC has been a great education. It has also been a year of laying foundations for the work to come.”

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