Saluting the volunteers who keep our communities safe
"Your call could save lives".
That stark message was issued in May by the Director of Intelligence at Wiltshire Police, Sonja Leith. She said: "The intelligence we receive from our communities is crucial in helping us, our partner agencies and neighbouring forces."
Sonja was talking about the so-called "county lines" in which dangerous drug networks spread their tentacles out from the big cities to towns in rural counties like Wiltshire, often exploiting vulnerable children and adults in the process.
She hoped more people would "feel comfortable" about reporting information to the police.
Last week, the Counter Terrorism Police Network and Wiltshire's Chief Constable Kier Pritchard appealed for anyone with information in relation to the Amesbury incident to contact police immediately.
In May, officers from the Dedicated Crime Team went to an address in Swindon just after 7am and arrested two men. The police were acting on intelligence received from the public about drug dealing in the area.
On a less serious level, six people were arrested last month after police were called to numerous reports of door-to-door salesmen causing a nuisance in Malmesbury. These were the so-called "Nottingham Knockers" trying to sell goods -- and turning abusive when householders declined to buy.
Just do a Google search on "eyes and ears of the police" and you'll find many results from around the world. I've chosen three news items from around Britain to illustrate the point:
2018: The public will be the eyes and ears of the police on Harry and Meghan's wedding day.
2017: Visitors to the North Yorkshire countryside are urged to be the eyes and ears of the police to reduce attacks on birds of prey.
2016: Commuters must be the eyes and ears in the fight against terror, say the Government and British Transport Police. Don't be afraid to come forward. We rely on information from the public to keep the railway safe.
What better example is there of people banding together to keep their communities safe from crime than Neighbourhood Watch? And what a brilliant answer all those police appeals are to any notion that Neighbourhood Watch has somehow had its day. For two reasons, the opposite is most definitely the case:
First, we all have a duty to contribute to the safety and security of our communities, especially to those who are most vulnerable
Second, Neighbourhood Watch is in excellent hands, both locally and nationally, and with what teachers call "a growth mindset": actively looking to learn and to build on its considerable successes to date
I hope that, over recent weeks, you have read or heard about the Beyond the Beat campaign which is a joint endeavour by Wiltshire Police and my office. Our ambition is to raise awareness of the hidden demands faced by the Force.
It's a theme that was pursued by the BBC's Panorama programme, "Police Under Pressure", in May. The film asked whether Britain's police can cope and revealed forces stretched to what it called "crisis point" by eight years of austerity and a national shortage of experienced detectives.
So, are we at crisis point? I don't think so, but we would have been hard pressed to find more savings had the Government not given me the flexibility to increase the precept by £12 a year.
I am acutely aware of the pressure under which our Force is operating. I have written to the Home Secretary to flag up the low level of funding allocated by the Home Office to Wiltshire, compared with other police areas.
I have also asked the Home Secretary to consider protecting the grant the Home Office pays to PCCs and to allow us to raise monthly council tax contributions by a further £1 per household per month next year.
I pointed out that policing in Wiltshire had seen the second highest increase nationally in demand on services, much of it non crime related.
I gave an assurance in my letter that both the Chief Constable and I will ensure our Force makes it harder for criminals to operate and exploit vulnerable people while also looking after the needs of the victim - making sure they aren't lost or forgotten in the process.
So, demand is rising, the nature of crime is changing and resources are stretched.
Last Saturday I spoke at the annual meeting of the Wiltshire Neighbourhood Watch Association in Devizes and paid tribute to the chairman Mike Davidson and his fellow committee members for the leadership and commitment they have shown.
I have been so pleased to see the way their website has developed with:
the postcode search allowing users to find the nearest Neighbourhood Watch scheme;
useful info for people wishing to start a scheme, including an easy online form;
promotion of Neighbourhood Alerts, which provide targeted information to registered users via the Community Messaging scheme
Then there is handy information about how to put up Neighbourhood Watch signs.
And much more besides including a link to an electronic newsletter and to a short video, "Communities Defeat Terrorism" which is part of the "Action Counters Terrorism" campaign.
Thanks to Neighbourhood Watch, fewer people feel afraid, vulnerable or isolated in the place where they live.
That is why I was delighted to cement our close working relationship by signing a partnership agreement between Neighbourhood Watch, Wiltshire Police and my office.
Volunteers bring Wiltshire Police closer to the communities it serves. They bring with them skills and knowledge which can only enrich the brilliant work done by our officers and staff.
Wiltshire is a wonderful place to live because of the many hundreds - no, thousands - of good people who care about their communities. Thank you for what you do.