Election special: Three-way battle on May 2 to become Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – what the candidates propose to do if they win your vote

As scores of voters go to the polls for local council elections on Thursday May 2, Devon residents are also gearing up to choose their Police and Crime Commissioner for the next four years.

Here, our local democracy reporters have probed the three candidates vying to be elected, in a bid to explain just what the next Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly plans to do.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections in brief

With 39 police areas spanning England and Wales, each area elects a single commissioner to oversee and advocate for effective policing. The core mission of PCCs revolves around cutting crime and delivering an efficient and responsive police service within their designated areas, writes  Lee Trewhela.

Elected by the public, the commissioners are entrusted with the responsibility of holding Chief Constables and their police forces accountable on behalf of the communities they serve. This encompasses a range of duties, including setting the police budget to ensure effective allocation of resources, appointing Chief Constables to lead local police forces and actively engaging with the public and victims of crime to shape police and crime plans.

PCCs also work closely with local councils and community organisations to identify and address the specific needs and challenges of their areas.

The candidates for the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner position are:

Alison Hernandez, Conservative

Devon

Conservative candidate and current Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez.

The current PCC writes: “I have worked and delivered on the issues that you told me mattered. Devon and Cornwall Police has a record number of police officers with an extra 686 since I took office. That’s thanks to our council tax payers and the government uplift. This enabled Operation Loki to be created to tackle anti-social behaviour.

“We remain one of the lowest crime rate areas in the country but our police force still needs to be more efficient and effective. Complacency is our enemy. I have re-opened 13 police station enquiry offices with five more to go if re-elected. Better access to policing where you live

“My office has won national awards for creating affordable new homes built by prisoners to reduce reoffending and for the successful campaign of Operation Scorpion which improved the reporting of drug dealing; established Vision Zero to take dangerous drivers off our roads and invested £5 million into road safety.”

She added she’d helped to secure £5.5million of Safer Streets funding to improve CCTV, street lighting and help women and girls feel safer. “I still have the energy and strength to drive improvements so that we have less crimes, less victims and less offenders. Along with a police force we can all be confident in. Please vote for me to continue being your voice in matters of policing and crime.”

Daniel Steel, Labour

Devon

Labour PCC candidate Daniel Steel.

The Labour candidate writes: “Wherever we live in Devon, Cornwall or the Isles of Scilly, one thing that connects us all is the need to feel safe. Anti-social behaviour, violence particularly against women and girls, drug-crime, and alcohol abuse continue to seriously harm our communities. Too many urban and rural crimes go unchecked, damaging our families and businesses. That’s why I’m standing for election as Police and Crime Commissioner.

“After 14 years of Tory mismanagement, Labour is committed to taking back our streets, halving serious violent crime and restoring confidence in our police and criminal justice system. I am too. This is where I grew up and where I’m proud to call home.

“My career in public service has taken me to challenging and dangerous places including Afghanistan. It cemented my belief that law and order is the bedrock of our society. I will bring strength, integrity and honesty to the role, and pledge to:

“1. Put police back on the streets: More police officers and PCSOs on our streets to prevent crime, catch offenders and tackle anti-social behaviour.

“2. Tackle the levels of violence against women and girls: By creating new police specialists to tackle violence and rape.

“3. Prevent youth crime: Knife crime is soaring. I’ll ensure the police crack-down on serious violence and prevent young people getting drawn into crime.

“4. Boost crime prevention and victim support: To make it more local, and better focused on the challenges that face our rural areas and towns.

“5. Crackdown on illegal sewage dumping: I’m backing Labour’s tough plans to ensure water bosses overseeing repeated illegal sewage dumping are prosecuted.

“Vote for me, Daniel Steel on May 2 for stronger policing and safer streets.”

Steve Lodge, Liberal Democrat

elections

Liberal Democrat PCC candidate Steve Lodge.

A statement for the Lib Dem candidate says: “Steve will rebuild trust, unity and accountability in the fight against crime – engaging senior officers, communities and other agencies with a renewed focus on community policing and reform.

“If elected, Steve’s focus will be on:

Prevention – tackling the root causes of crime

Effectiveness – smarter policing for a safer tomorrow

Trust – rebuilding trust through transparency

“Steve’s priorities will include:

A return to genuine community policing, where officers are more visible and integrated into our communities and are trusted to deliver

Supporting officers to work with integrity and prevent discrimination

A renewed focus on “broken windows”: small crimes that damage confidence and trust in the police.

“Together, we can steer a return to proper community policing and people feeling safe – but only by voting for Steve Lodge and the Liberal Democrats,” adds the candidate’s statement.

Here, local democracy reporter Alison Stephenson’s in-depth report looks at what the three candidates propose to tackle if they win the vote to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.

Alison Hernandez, current Police and Crime Commissioner

Tackling rural crime and a radical solution to prevent domestic violence will be among Alison Hernandez’s top priorities if she is re-elected for a third term as police and crime commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Eight years into the job, Ms Hernandez, 50, says she is only just getting started on many of her projects.

These include the cross-border Operation Scorpion to crack down on county lines drugs operations and the ‘Prisoners Building Homes’ programme.

“We are trying to sort out some of the problems in society and we are just getting started,” she said.

“A lot of my energy during the last term has gone on Operation Scorpion and we have disrupted 4,000 drug operations in two years, working with the police and crime cimissioners across the south west.

“Prisoners Building Homes took three years to get off the ground. It started in my force area of Torquay and now we have a regional housebuilding programme.”

Currently 82 homes are being built across 14 developments by the scheme set up to allow prisoners to be employed by modular housing providers to build low carbon, homes for local communities and vulnerable people.

It aims to reduce reoffending by ensuring prisoners have the skills to help them get jobs when they are released.

“You need to understand the problem you are trying to solve, and in this case it is homelessness, because every time people reoffend the excuse you are given is that they haven’t got a home or a job and they go back into their old ways,” said Ms Hernandez.

The Torbay resident, who represents the Conservative party, will be going head-to-head with Labour party candidate Daniel Steel, 31, from Plymouth and Tiverton businessman Steve Lodge, 53, in the police and crime commissioner (PCC)  election on Thursday 2 May.

The role, which was created in 2012, holds the police to account and scrutinises their performance.

Mrs Hernandez, who previously worked in local and regional government heading community safety partnerships before taking over as police and crime commissioner from her Tory predecessor Tony Hogg in 2016, cites her achievements as getting the number of police officers to a  record high of 3,610, thanks to government funding and extra money from taxpayers.

She has added an extra £100 to council tax bills for police services in the eight years she has been commissioner.

Over the period, £5.5 million of ‘Safer Streets’ funding has been used to improve CCTV and street lighting,and to help to make women and girls feel safer, particularly in Exeter and Plymouth following the murders of two women, Lorraine Cox and Bobbi-Anne McLeod. A partnership called Vision Zero has invested £5 million into road safety.

Ms Herndendez is the lead police and crime commissioner for road safety.

Thirteen police station enquiry offices have re-opened under her watch, allowing the public face-to-face contact with police. Five more openings are planned this year.

With domestic violence on the increase and accounting for much of the violent crime in the region, Ms Hernandez says it is one of her priorities for the next four-year term, if she is re-elected.

“I have decided we cannot just keep doing more of the same – that is helping victims to escape and supporting them to report. We need to do more.

“If I can do what I did with Vision Zero by getting all the partners on board, I think I can do something similar to tackle domestic violence. I don’t have a solution yet but I am up for the challenge and it will happen within the next term if people vote me in.

“There will also be a huge push to tackle serious and organised rural crime, the stealing of animals and property.”

Ms Hernandez said she would be match-funding £1 million of ASB hotspot money from the government to help with the cost of street marshal schemes, which it is claimed are successful in places like Barnstaple.

And she said she knows people want police officers to be more visible.

“I think they are more visible than they were, but people want more. They don’t want officers distracted or extracted but that is the case with officers on patrol who are making arrests. It’s hard to achieve stability in this organisation which is very dynamic.

“I have some fantastic officers doing great work on the ASB front. Inspector Ben Shardlow in South Devon has managed to reduce ASB by working with Councillors, he got the college involved, spoke to businesses and patrolled certain hotspots.

“When you grip it and lead it it works but you need Councillors stepping up. I have a Councillor-advocate scheme where they get better access to policing and we really support them to be community leaders.”

Ms Hernandez said she had delivered on her promises made in 2016 to make police stations open to the public after they were shut during the austerity years and to recruit  more police officers.

“I have got a track record of doing what I say, and that is important,” she said.

“I don’t think most people realise what this job does. I spend 50 per cent of my time scrutinising the police and 50 per cent trying to tackle crime, reduce crime and a lot of it has nothing to do with the police.

“Prisoners Building Homes, we started it here. It’s gone regionally and will go nationally in the next term. That is the sort of radical ideas we are coming up with to solve society problems.

“If you want someone like that, vote for me.”

Daniel Steel – Labour

A Plymouth born-and-bred former diplomat is hoping his resilience and experience of working in some of the most challenging areas of the world will make him a good fit for the role of Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner.

Daniel Steel is one of three candidates standing for election on Thursday 2 May. He is the Labour and Co-operative Party representative.

The others are Conservative Alison Hernandez, who has been police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the last eight years, and Tiverton businessman Steve Lodge, for the Liberal Democrats.

The job of the PCC is to hold the police force to account and to scrutinise their performance. It comes with a salary of more than £88,000 and elections take place every four years.

Mr Steel, 31, says he has public service running through his veins. His father was in the Royal Navy and he has always wanted “to do his bit.”

“My values come from my dad, it has what has motivated me my whole life. I want to put back more than I take out.”

He has served in countries such as Afghanistan, where he says his resilience and leadership were forged.  He also dealt with challenging issues around refugee displacement, human trafficking and modern slavery whilst working at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

“I spent a lot of my career so far working in difficult and dangerous places,” he said.  “It allowed me to see what it looks like when the rule of law breaks down.  I fundamentally believe that the rule of law is the bedrock of our society and democracy.

“When you look at the alternatives of violence and chaos you see in lots of other places, we are really lucky that in the UK we have strong government systems and governance in our country.”

Mr Steel, who has had to give up his job as a civil servant because he is standing for office,  hopes that Labour will form the government following the next general election but he says in the meantime the police and crime commissioner role is a chance to implement the party’s mission.

“One of Labour’s key aims is to take back the streets, with 13,000 more officers and police community support officers (PCSOs). I was shocked that in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly we only have 177 PCSOs. That’s one per 10,000 residents. It’s why we don’t have the community policing we expect and deserve as the public.”

Devon and Cornwall had almost double the number of PCSOs (346) in March 2015, a year before Ms Hernandez took over as commissioner. Many subsequently became police officers.

“If I am elected, my number one priority on day one is to re-establish community policing.  Too many police officers unfortunately are having to work behind desks because the force does not have the right mix of staff.

“Alongside the acting chief constable and the senior team, I would be looking how we can increase police staff to free up officers so they can be working on the streets, not on spreadsheets.”

Mr Steel, who lives in Plymouth, said members of the public he had talked to linked problems of anti-social behaviour and burglaries directly with a lack of visible police presence.

And a business organisation in St Austell was paying a private security firm in the town centre to keep crime down, he said.

“It’s not the fault of police. It’s a result of all political decision making by the Conservative government and police and crime commissioners. Policing was cut to the bone and the force has lost years of valuable experience from those officers who went during the cuts.”

Mr Steel has also pledged to tackle violence against women and girls, prevent youth crime and reduce reoffending, boost crime prevention and victim support, and back a crackdown on illegal sewage dumping.

A few years ago, he was the victim of a knife crime and said the traumatic experience had stayed with him. He says it has given him the ability to empathise with victims of serious crime.

“I see the role as being a representative for victims, the accused and members of the public to try and bring a public prospective into the police.”

He said he had made a career out of bringing people together.

And he added that his work as a diplomat was similar to being a politician: “I have represented the UK and spoken on its behalf with ministers and other diplomats around the  world to make sure I was delivering for the UK’s people.

“The PCC is a challenging role but an important one. It which covers an enormous region. We are diverse in terms of population, rural, urban, different politics and I will be acting in a fair and even handed way and do my best to serve the residents across the region, however they vote.

“I can reassure the public that I will be making the tough calls and asking the tough questions. The cost of policing is becoming more and more of a burden on the taxpayer, for me it’s about how we use those resources efficiently to make sure they are working.”

Steve Lodge – Liberal Democrat

A businessman and accountant who has watched politics from afar is hoping to become the next police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.

Steve Lodge, 53, from Tiverton, in mid Devon, thought about standing as a MP, but says his financial background and governance experience – he has been vice chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Mid Devon – together with his knowledge of business, are suited to the commissioner role.

And the fact that he has no background in policing, he believes, is a good thing, enabling him to bring “creativity, innovation and acumen to the job, without any baggage”.

Mr Lodge, who is standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the election, runs a marketing and communications agency and has been in business for 25 years. Before that he was an accountant at IBM and Marconi.

“I watched politics from afar. I am a life long Lib Dem voter, but never really considered myself going into that area and I was concentrating on my business,” he said. “I now have the opportunity to step back a bit and it feels like time for a change.”

Bumping into Lib Dem Richard Foord, MP for Tiverton and Honiton and Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey during a PR job at Tiverton High School sealed the deal.

“I was inspired by them to make the world a fairer place, and thought that’s something I would like to do.”

Mr Lodge is one of three candidates, along with incumbent commissioner Alison Hernandez, and former diplomat and civil servant Daniel Steel.

The job of the PCC is to hold the police service to account and to scrutinise their performance. It pays more than £88,000 a year, with elections taking place every four years.

Mr Lodge wants to see “a proper return to community policing” with more bobbies on the beat, and to bridge the gap between the police and the public as he says “trust has been eroded”.

He wants what he called ‘fairer funding’ and ‘smarter spending’ so police have the resources to fight crime, and to support rehabilitation and restorative justice.

He said national police funding levels were the same last year as in 2011. “You have to question how the police can work properly with this amount of underfunding,” he said.

Mr Lodge believed he could “add value” to the new police and crime plan in 2025 and wants more of a multi-agency approach.

He said many people, charities and local authorities, who do “fantastic work” on crime prevention and in areas like mental health, who are unsung heroes.

He feels the police needed “to be more joined up”. All the force could do is to respond to crime and teach rookie officers the basics, he said.

The biggest issue right now “hands down,” is anti-social behaviour, he believes.

“It’s something I am hearing when I knock on every door. In Truro, shopkeepers are subject to verbal abuse. People think they can just walk in and steal what they like.”

He continued: “If we can provide common sense to politics and to being the police and crime commissioner, we will resolve a lot of the problems we have currently.”

Looking through documents from 2012, when the police and crime commissioner’s office was set up, he saw something on youth crime which made a lot of sense but hadn’t been implemented.

“It was created by the Conservatives and it said for every pound you spend on youth crime you save the country £2.50. If I could walk into bank with £1 and come out with £2.50 I would be a happy man, but what happened? Investment in youth crime was slashed. Investment in the police was slashed.

“If we invest properly in our public services, we will deal with the issues we have, but for some reason politicians just don’t see it.”

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