Helping the Force protect people at risk of harm
Protecting people at risk of harm has always been at the heart of policing.
But in the last few years, there has been an ever growing need to help those who are vulnerable to abuse but may be unable to speak up for themselves, as well as an increasing complexity to the kinds of cases the police deal with.
This summer’s Dorset Police Tweetathon – during which the Force tweeted every single 999 and 101 call that came into its control room on a busy Friday night – clearly demonstrated how often the police now deal with incidents involving mental health and social care issues.
Overstretched officers sadly finding themselves being left with responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in society, who would be far better dealt with by other agencies.
The National Rural Crime Network’s recent survey – partly funded by my office – shone a worrying light on the hidden problem of domestic abuse in the countryside.
And the county line drugs gangs often take over the homes of vulnerable people in order to conduct their damaging trade, while human traffickers – another growing area of threat – run criminal enterprises based entirely on exploitation.
My Police and Crime Plan, created back in 2016 as the masterplan for all activities carried out by my office and Dorset Police, included a section called Protecting People At Risk Of Harm.
It set out a series of pledges outlining how I was going to strengthen the Force’s ability to target resources, helping protect our communities and keep the most vulnerable safe.
I was keen that some were achieved as quickly as possible. For example, within my first 100 days in office, I allocated resources to the Paedophile Online Investigation Team, increasing the number of officers involved in investigating and proactively seeking out offenders.
And I’m very pleased to say that other pledges, outlining the huge range of work in this area, have now also been achieved.
Working with young people
Some involve working with vulnerable young people who may be on the edge of being lured into a life of crime, with disastrous effects on them, their families and their communities.
Young people often don’t realise how much of a burden a criminal record can be – closing down opportunities and pushing them in a direction in which criminality ends up being their only option.
I increased funding to expand the size of the county’s Safe Schools and Communities Team, who do vital work to intervene in these cases, getting in early and pushing young people in another direction.
I’m also proud to have worked with the Chief Constable to create Dorset’s first Police Cadet Scheme.
I’ve heard amazing stories about how these schemes can inspire young people, sometimes from troubled backgrounds – such as the former gang member who joined one of the Met’s cadet units and is now a serving police officer.
The idea of setting up a unit at the Bourne Academy was so popular we had to open a second one, and I’m sure there will very soon be inspirational tales of young people who have turned their lives around as a result.
Dorset Police now receives around 200 reports of missing adults every month, many of whom are incredibly vulnerable, and another pledge is the introduction of return home interviews once these people have been found.
This initiative, launching next year, will help identify why they went missing and what help can be put in place to stop them disappearing again – potentially with much sadder consequences.
Other commitments to have been achieved include encouraging victims to report traditionally underreported crimes such as domestic abuse, hate crime and sexual offences, as well as making sure the police work with agencies at the forefront of tackling modern slavery.
Helping our veterans
I’ve also been keen to help provide a better service for Dorset’s veteran community, who are themselves often vulnerable as they struggle to transition into civilian life, experiencing problems such as mental health issues, drug addiction and homelessness, and are also sadly disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
And I have continued to lobby the government to improve the security of our ports, as the safety of our 85 miles of coastline is something that potentially leaves us all vulnerable – as well as increasing resources to Dorset Police’s own Marine Unit.
Along with this, my office supports groups who help vulnerable people, such as The Shores sexual assault referral centre, STARS, formerly known as Dorset Rape Crisis and Recovery Service, and the Maple Project, which works with victims of domestic abuse.
Policing alone cannot protect vulnerable people, and I aspire to create a vulnerable people’s directorate, made up of a wide range of organisations across Dorset, with pooled resources, budgets and staff, so we have a strategic response to protecting those at risk. We aren’t there yet, but a lot of work continues to go towards achieving this ambition.
I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone in my team, in Dorset Police and in organisations across the county who have worked with me over the last four years in helping make our county a safer place for the most vulnerable.