Devon and Cornwall see one of worst spikes in crime rates in the country
Devon and Cornwall suffered one of the worst surges in crime in the country as the force slashed more than 100 police officers, latest official figures show.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales – regarded as the most accurate indicator of crime levels – revealed that Devon and Cornwall was among only a handful of forces nationally to see crime rates rise.
In the 12 months to December, the overall number of crimes in the two counties rose by 3 per cent to 89,613 – an increase only outstripped in Warwickshire.
It also revealed worrying increases in robbery, which rose 12 per cent to 486 offences, and domestic burglary, which was up 16 per cent – the fourth biggest increase nationally – to 4,134.
Crime rose in 11 of the 14 categories covered by the survey, with the only reductions being in vehicle crime, criminal damage and “other” offences.
Figures to the end of March for Devon and Cornwall, which have yet to be published by the Home Office, put the overall rise at 6.4 per cent, or 5,498 crimes.
Critics were quick to point out that rise coincided with the force reorganising and cutting police officer numbers to meet the near-£50 million budget cuts which have to be made by 2015.
Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, corr chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, said the situation was “entirely predictable”.
“The Government cuts are biting hard now and are reflected in these figures,” Sgt Rabbitts said. “The blame lies with the Government, which has severely curtailed the options available to the chief constable.
“But the reorganisation has taken the focus away from everyday work which was driving down crime in the two counties. We were in a good place.
“It’s not all because of the economic downturn – it’s because we have changed the way we are policing and the figures are a clear indication that the system is not right.”
Government cuts, including the loss of the rural policing grant, will leave Devon and Cornwall with just 2,802 officers – a level last seen in the 1980s – from a recent high of 3,500. Some 500 civilian support jobs will also be axed.
The regional statistics were in stark contrast to the national picture, with total recorded crime falling from 3 per cent to 4,043,339. Reductions of 7 per cent were recorded in violence, with a 3 per cent increase in robbery and a 5 per cent increase in “other” theft.
Devon and Cornwall’s figures will make uncomfortable reading for new Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, who took the job on a temporary basis in March.
The eight months he has in the post before the arrival of the new police and crime commissioner in November are being seen as his opportunity to stake a major claim for the post in the long term.
Acting Deputy Chief Constable Sharon Taylor said there was “nothing to suggest” that the increase in crime was related to the loss of officers over the last 12 months, a period in which public confidence in the force had been maintained and visibility of officers had increased.
She said the economic crisis and rise in unemployment may be to blame.
“To put the figures into context, they come on the back of repeated, substantial reductions in crime over a number of years,” she said. “In the case of burglary, offences halved in the four-year period before these figures.
“A lot of the increases we have seen in the last 12 months takes us back to where we were in 2010. We have not seen an explosion in crime. But we are extremely concerned about it and are taking a number of measures to address it.”
Ms Taylor stressed that Devon and Cornwall remained “low crime areas” and among the safest places to live in the country.
She added: “After significant number of years where crime was reducing year-on-year there had to be a point at which is would go back up. It is unfortunate that it was the last 12 months in which it chose to happen.”