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Looking back on nine years as Dorset's Police and Crime Commissioner

As we come to the end of my time as Dorset’s first Police and Crime Commissioner, I look back on what we’ve achieved over the last nine years.

I say ‘we’ because I’ve been helped every step of the way by the dedicated officers and staff of Dorset Police, by members of my own team, and of course by the people of this county, who it’s been an honour to serve over my two terms.

It hasn’t been an easy nine years across policing. I came in as PCC when austerity was starting to bite, and just as the taps were being turned back on, we were hit by a global pandemic in which forces nationally were given responsibility for enforcing unprecedented restrictions on people’s liberty.

Dorset PCC Martyn Underhill

Nevertheless, I’m incredibly proud to have worked so closely with Dorset Police, and will be glad to be handing over a force in such rude health to whoever succeeds me after the May elections. 

The role of a Police and Crime Commissioner is complicated, and I appreciate many members of the public may not understand exactly what it is that I do. But I leave the role knowing I have been able to make a difference, either by enabling innovative projects to get off the ground, by lobbying for change or simply by putting the right people together.

Victims of crime

Victims of crime have always been at the heart of my work and many of the projects my office has funded have been aimed at improving services for them.

I was proud, during my first term, to launch the Dorset Victims' Bureau alongside Victims' Commissioner Baroness Helen Newlove. The bureau was aimed at supporting victims of crime, guiding them through the complicated world of the Criminal Justice System, and making sure they had someone who could talk to them.

I was also the first PCC in the country to award a local victims' contract, and under their recommissioned contract Victim Support are now providing an enhanced service to victims of domestic abuse.

And in 2017, I announced a new Victims’ Champion to provide greater support to victims of crime who are repeatedly targeted, causing them huge amounts of stress. The champion was responsible for making sure these people were able to get all the help and information they needed.

Maritime county

Dorset is of course a maritime county, and one thing I was keen to do in my first term was to revoke the Force decision to disband the Marine Unit, which patrols our 89 miles of coastline.

Later I went onto fund an additional member, almost doubling the amount of time they could get in the water.

As well as this, I also helped provide the funds for a new police boat called Buccaneer – an impressive 11mt rigid inflatable boat with a top speed of 50 knots – which was launched last year, expanding the capacity of this important team.

Child sexual abuse is a horrible and damaging crime which sadly technology is helping to facilitate, and another early priority of mine was to make sure the Force had the specialist teams in place to deal with this.

I secured funding to enable the creation of the Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) in my first term of office, and three additional officers joined the team early into my second term.

Supporting communities

I’m also proud to have been able to support residents across Dorset, particularly our veterans’ communities.

A huge proportion of the county’s population has served or grown up in Forces families, but sadly there are a disproportionate number of veterans who are homeless or in prison because of mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My office has funded projects to help former service personnel cope with the transition to civilian life, such as helping create a gym at the Veterans’ Hub in Weymouth.

And it’s important that all our communities here in Dorset are connected with the police officers who serve them. Policing is far more complex than it used to be, with crimes often tackled by specialists rather than local officers patrolling beats. But despite this, those officers still need to have a close relationship with the people they represent.

That’s why I worked with the Force to develop a Neighbourhood Engagement Contract, setting out exactly what neighbourhood officers need to do to engage with local people.

I also made a commitment to retain the Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) role in Dorset. PCSOs form a vital part of neighbourhood policing, providing visible patrols to reassure and engage with the public.

 As well as making sure the role stayed in Dorset, at a time when other Forces were getting rid of their PCSOs, I also helped introduce a new Police Community Support Investigator (PCSI) role to help meet the demands of modern policing – recording lower level crimes and carrying out initial investigations to help the Force manage demand.

Tackling fly tipping 

Much of my work has been about trying to bring the right people together, and this is what I did to tackle fly tipping.

This is a blight that causes a nuisance to residents, makes neighbourhoods look run down and creates health hazards, and there is often public confusion over just who is responsible.  It’s a problem that needs a partnership response, and I held a Problem Solving Forum to bring these partners together and come up with new ideas.

Many innovations to come out of that meeting have now been put into place, including creating a Dorset Fly Tipping Group to form a more coordinated response, while Dorset Police has agreed to provide additional investigative support to bring serious offenders to justice.

This was never going to be a comprehensive list, but I hope it gives you brief insight into what I’ve done over the last nine years.

Once again, I want to thank you all for the support you have given me as your PCC.

Remember, elections for my successor take place on May 6. Please remember to make sure you’re registered to vote so you can have your say on the future of policing.

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