Richard Lawrence reports:
Today I met the new acting Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Sean Sawyer who clearly has eyes on the top job when the position is advertised later this year. It's arguably the most challenging time since the second world war for a Chief Constable to take charge of the force where up to 700 hundred officers are leaving and 500 hundred civilian staff by 2015.
It was after the shock of the murder of PC Kieth Blackelock in 1985 that Sean, the youngest of three brothers brought up on a council estate in Croydon, felt a burning desire to become a police officer . He joined the Metropolitan Police in London where he stayed for twenty years before moving to Devon to take up the role as the Deputy Chief Constable two years ago. Up until that time he has seen the expansion of policing. But now he faces taking charge of a budget slashed by £50 in what is the third largest geographic area for policing in Britain.
He says the first wave of cuts has forced officers to think differently and, in some areas, work in ways they have never done before. Crime reduction and prevention are the priorities but he is aware that neighbourhood policing will suffer in the cuts as the force juggles its priorities to ensure there is always an effective response to 999 calls.
With such large rural areas he hopes that other crimes won't go undetected – domestic violence for example. But there are other internal problems too – Morale. According to the union for uninformed officers,the police federation, it is at an all time low. Rebuilding confidence among staff will be a tough challenge. On top of trying to balance a budget he wants to carry out a full pay review for civilian roles. The last time that happened it backfired as staff staged an unprecedented walk out when they received letters telling them they would either lose or in a few cases gain thousands of pounds. Lessons have been learnt since then. “ All in all “, he said “ it’s a big ask!” but he says he knows too that the people of Devon and Cornwall support their officers and want them to succeed .
The previous Chief Constable Steve Otter adopted an almost Chief Executive style leadership to the role while the police federation hope Mr Sawyer will prove himself with the values of a uniformed police officer at heart . They wish him luck.