UL: Since you became the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Surrey in May 2016, which parts of your position have you enjoyed the most and what have been the biggest challenges to date?

DM: The parts I’ve enjoyed the most is relating to hundreds of wonderful people; within the force – police officers and staff – but also in the voluntary sector (such as York Road Project), local councillors and above all, residents themselves. I speak to a lot of people; I’ve got a residents meeting in Runnymede this evening for instance and that’s what really makes the job. What are the biggest challenges? Well, it’s a case of how long you’ve got! Seriously though, I think the big one is reconciling the wishes of residents to see lots of police officers on the street and recognising the importance of reassurance at a local level but also balancing that with the need to stamp down on crime behind closed doors and high-harm crime – that’s an inevitable tension. We can’t do both as successfully as we’d like to as we don’t have the resources, but we’ve got to do both in some way. We can’t withdraw from the streets and crack down on organised criminal gangs, yet at the same time we can’t have everybody in the streets and let high harm crime go unfettered. 

UL: You’ve stated that recent increases to the Council Tax precept for policing will allow Surrey Police to double the number of neighbourhood officers. What was that decision based on and how will it benefit local communities?

DM: The springboard for that has been the increase in the precept. For the first time for a very long time, Surrey Police are expanding. With the extra money, we’ll be able to employ 100 extra police officers, PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) and front-facing operational staff, all with a good focus on neighbourhood policing – meaning we’re doubling the number. Neighbourhood is not the totality of local policing but they’re the people who go into communities, not reactively but to find out about anti-social behaviour and what residents’ concerns are and respond to them. We’re going out to consultation to hear what residents really want. We’ve had three events so far and the main themes have so far been more neighbourhood policing – I was expecting that – but also there seems to be a growing concern about fraud, which ranges from neighbourhood policing to large-scale international fraud and everything in between.

UL: The Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Surrey kindly funds part of our homeless outreach work in Woking and the surrounding areas. Why do you think it’s crucial to invest in this type of local service?

DM: It seems obvious to me; if people do not have secure accommodation then their life is in turmoil and they are far more likely to commit crime or have issues with drugs, which has a direct correlation to crime. So apart from the need to help people – and that’s what the police are all about, helping people – if we can provide help in a specific way by giving people a secure life, including accommodation, we will cut crime. Offenders who are released from prison into Surrey are much less likely to reoffend compared to equivalent groups elsewhere in the country and I hope the work we’re doing is part of that. We also receive complaints about rough sleepers in town centres behaving anti-socially so if they can be accommodated, not only does it help those individuals themselves but also the wider public.

UL: Thanks to additional funding through the OPCC, we’re currently recruiting for a Navigator role to work alongside our outreach team with rough sleepers involved in the Criminal Justice System. What are your hopes for that role and the outcomes that will be achieved?

DM: The hope – and we’re on our way to achieving it – is that not a single person who is released from prison into Surrey leaves without secure, firm accommodation. It doesn’t have to be luxurious, but it does have to be stable. That means no sofa surfing or just ‘hoping for the best’; they need to have a dedicated place to call their own. Once someone has accommodation, that is the gateway to everything else – a bank account, future employment and so on. It’s going to be a difficult aim to achieve but we certainly want to see improvements. We’ve got three main Navigator programmes underway now, of which York Road Project will be one of them. This is going to be the first Navigator role specifically working to tackle homelessness in Surrey. We have other generic Navigators helping people, we also have a specialist women’s Navigator and are looking to introduce special mental health and learning disability Navigators. However, as well as Navigators, we need more available accommodation in the first place. It’s difficult enough to find accommodation in an expensive place like Surrey, so it’s much more difficult for ex-offenders. 

UL: In Woking and other Surrey towns, there has recently been concerns about organised begging linked to modern day slavery. Do you think this is being taken seriously and what’s your advice to members of the public?

DM: It’s a twin track approach. There’s criminality associated with organised begging and that’s very much the province of borough commanders and their teams. They are sending a clear message to local residents that they shouldn’t give money to beggars. Instead, offer them a hot drink or something to eat but if people want to be altruistic, as so many do, they should give money to organisations like York Road Project who can help such people and not to the beggars themselves. There also needs to be a two-way relationship with outreach workers across Surrey as they have a responsibility to share any intelligence about known gang leaders to local police.
UL: As someone who has personally been involved with charities as a trustee and with fundraising, do you feel it’s important that communities also get behind their local charities?

DM: Yes, very much so. I like to think that our funding across Surrey is also levering more funding from residents. Not just money but also good will and the active involvement of hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers that give up their time for free. Hopefully the initiative shown by the OPCC is a leading example in contributing to a more successful voluntary sector, and I think it is. Woking Borough Council also has a superb track record of helping vulnerable and unfortunate people and is an example to all of us.

Urban Living is York Road Project's quarterly print magazine sponsored by New Heat Solutions.

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