Helping the Force support victims, witnesses and reduce reoffending
Whatever we do in policing, we should never forget that all our decisions are about people.
Having served as a police officer for three decades, I saw time and time again the devastating impact that crime has on its victims.
Those who have been victims of street robbery can feel frightened leaving their front door, while those who have been burgled sometimes no longer feel comfortable in their own homes.
And while those who commit crime should of course face punishment, society has nothing to gain when individuals are stuck in the revolving door of reoffending – getting released from prison only to carry out further offences and find themselves back behind bars within months.
Supporting victims, witnesses and reducing reoffending are some of the major challenges in policing, both locally and nationally. That’s why, when I created my Police and Crime Plan to guide all activity carried out by my office and Dorset Police, one of its four pillars was dedicated to ways of achieving these goals.
While many of you will know that I am in charge of the budget for Dorset Police, separately from this a relatively small budget of my own has been set aside for commissioning projects that are able to make a lasting difference by achieving these priorities.
I am now pleased to say my office has achieved the objectives I set to support victims, witnesses and reduce reoffending.
Giving victims a voice
Restorative justice is a system which focuses on the needs of victims, giving them a voice by letting them tell offenders exactly what impact the crime has had on them.
If done properly, it can provide huge benefits to victims by giving them a sense of closure, while it can enable offenders to mend some of the damage they have caused.
This is never merely an ‘easy way out’ for offenders who wants to avoid tough sentences. Crucially, both parties agree to take part and the whole process needs to be carefully managed by experts.
That’s why I funded Restorative Dorset to provide a service across the whole county.
Since being launched in 2017, they had dealt with more than 160 cases up to the end of November 2019, including some very serious and complicated ones, and they now work with prisons across the South West to arrange meetings between victims and offenders behind bars.
Support for those affected by crime
I was the first PCC in the country to award a local victims’ contract, commissioning Victim Support to provide the service in 2014.
They provide an excellent standard of support for people affected by crime, with many examples of victims praising the help they received.
Victim Support have now been recommissioned to run the service until 2022, and I’m particularly proud that a specialist team will be dedicated to helping those affected by domestic abuse.
Victims of crime and witnesses often feel overwhelmed by the court system, having previously only glimpsed the inside of a court on TV, and so two of my commitments focused heavily on trying to help them.
Guiding through the court process
It’s incredibly frustrating for nervous victims and witnesses when hearings they have prepared themselves for are delayed – often because of the practice of double or triple listing cases at court. My pledge to improve the efficiency of Dorset’s courts resulted in a reduction of outstanding magistrates’ cases, with more progress anticipated.
And a huge amount of work by my team has led to the creation of a Complainants’ Liaison Officer to guide victims through the sometimes baffling world of the criminal justice system, making sure they are aware of their rights and preparing them for court so they can give their best evidence possible. It’s early days, but feedback has so far been very positive.
Electronic tagging is an excellent way of managing offenders in the community, helping with their rehabilitation and addressing their offending behaviour, so I am pleased to have carried out work to expand the use of tagging in Dorset and lobby the Government for the police to be able to insist on high risk individuals being tagged.
Other pledges have focussed on exploring ways of reducing reoffending through mentoring, looking into the use of behaviour changing courses for offenders and picking up services which the probation service struggled to deliver when it was part privatised.
I would like to thank all those from Dorset Police, my own team and our many partner agencies who have helped me do all of this.
It is particularly gratifying to look back on what we have achieved as I come to the end of my second term of office, and indeed the end of my time as PCC for Dorset as many of you will now know I have made the difficult decision not to stand again in May 2020.
I am proud of this work, but more importantly I hope it continues to benefit people in Dorset long after my tenure has finished.