Dorset Police Chief will stand up for rural and elderly residents
DORSET’S Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill has vowed to champion the county’s elderly and rural residents.
He is also putting pressure on at the highest level to improve mental health support to prevent mentally ill people being taken into police custody.
And Mr Underhill has made the formation of public forums a top priority to gather views of people on how they want their communities to be policed.
The first Forum will be held in Shaftesbury on 22nd March and the day will include a surgery so that he can get feedback from as many people as possible.
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The independent commissioner said when he was elected in November he knew there were major challenges in representing rural Dorset and the elderly in a county where a high proportion of residents are over 65.
He said: “Those were the two big challenges.
“I have to make sure that the rural side of Dorset is not forgotten because of Bournemouth and Poole - there’s a perception that everything goes into the urban area.
“And the elderly are often not represented because it is harder to engage with them. They are not keen to turn out to meetings and, although there are plenty of silver surfers, they tend not to be online the way younger people are.”
But he added that he had become aware that people end up in police custody when they should be receiving help for mental health issues.
He said: “I’ve written to the Home Secretary about this.
“I don’t want people’s sons and daughters and mothers or anyone ending up in a police cell block when what they need is help for mental health problems.
“Mental health care in rural areas is something I need to work on with my partners.
“Too many people in crisis are going to police custody blocks because there are not sufficient mental health safe places to deal with them.”
Mr Underhill believes the new countywide network of Forums will lead to better use of police resources.
He said: “I’m doing everything I can to retain officers. I’m doing that by reviewing the estate strategy, looking at buildings and support staff.
“There’s clearly going to be a reduction in the budget - we’ve got a shrinking force.”
Mr Underhill said he responds to the hundreds of contacts made every week by the public, often phoning people to talk about their issues.
He said: “That surprises people sometimes but it’s a way of getting an insight into what the public wants and their perception of crime and the police.
“My role is to represent the public. The Forums are part of that.”
Mr Underhill chose Shaftesbury for the first Forum in Dorset because he was impressed by the public response there during his election campaign.
A total of 25 venues will be organised with Weymouth, Kinson and Wimborne to follow Shaftesbury.
He said: “I will also go to the forums that represent the elderly such as charities.”
He will also hold victim forums to represent the views of victims across Dorset.
Mr Underhill is planning to appoint volunteers as advocates to deal with major issues including late night drinking and the growing nighttime economy.
He said: “I am determined to go out and meet the public - they want their issues resolved.”
MR Underhill and the Wiltshire PCC Angus McPherson were chosen out of all the country’s PCCs to showcase their visions at a key Victim Support meeting in London yesterday.
A Victim Support spokesman said: “We chose Martyn Underhill as he is one of the leading independent PCCs and someone who has publicly committed to putting victims first.”