Six months is a long time in police service – and no foresight could have prepared the South Devon police commander for what was around the corner when he took over the role.
Chief Superintendent Matt Longman was handed over the reins of the patch that stretches from Teignbridge to Torbay and South Hams in December.
Challenges that arose at the time included gangs of teenagers on the streets of Newton Abbot, County Lines merchants who sent ever younger infantrymen to do their dirty work and face the stubborn stain of domestic violence.
None of these criminal activities have vanished in the past six months, but they have all been overshadowed by the coronavirus health pandemic that has swept society, worried minds and seized police resources.
With the disease now apparently retreating – although it is still a stalking presence – Ch Supt Longman is able to look back in the first six months. It has not been an easy ride for the police force at the national level, with criticisms of the heaviness towards the application of the blockade and therefore challenges on how to respond to the Black Lives Matters movement.
Ch Supt Longman states: “The obvious point to underline is that six months have passed as I hadn’t expected. The Covid pandemic and its response show that you never know what’s around the corner.
“The biggest reflection I have now looking back is how incredibly hard the partners, colleagues and staff have worked and what they have achieved in southern Devon.
“There are so many things that we have learned and above all a huge amount that we have achieved by maintaining the core of police activities and protecting people.
“I came up with some ideas about what was needed in the role and then suddenly you find yourself in unexplored waters and you have to think quickly about new challenges. I am part of a team and I had to rely on some fantastic people around me. What I saw that everyone got together and focused on what we had to do.
“The police are part of the community and we monitor by mutual agreement. We have tried to understand the impact of Covid across South Devon with our partners. I am particularly concerned about vulnerable people who we know will not be able to reach the services of they need “These could be victims of domestic and youth abuse. I’m still worried that this will have long-term effects on life across South Devon. “
Modern police are as much about working with other agencies to stop crime before it happens, as about catching criminals. In South Devon, the police try to work closely with those with experience in education, health, volunteering, anyone interested in making the community a better place. It’s not the kind of job that grabs headlines, but it’s no less important for that.
The coronavirus is as if nothing of what the police had ever dealt with before. Agents are regularly called to put themselves at physical risk in the service line, but the disease is an additional danger. Entering an infected house or arresting a mucus-drunk drunk on the street now poses a serious potential threat. Numerous South Devon defendants were convicted of the crime of spitting on officers.
“We have devoted a lot of thought and effort to how to keep social distances and how local stations could be safe covid,” says Ch Supt Longman.
“There would inevitably have been a compromise at some point between social distancing and saving lives. There have been a couple of cases where officers have saved lives.” On more than one occasion, the officers entered the water and pulled someone out.
Now he sees new challenges as we exit the blocking period.
“We will focus very hard on improving and maintaining the connection with the community. We need to understand where the concerns are and deal with them. We are starting to leave behind some of the covid laws and regulations, but that doesn’t mean there is still no role for us in keeping people safe. “
It is fair to say that Ch Supt Longman sees communication as one of the keys to effective surveillance in South Devon. He says he has noticed several challenges throughout the patch.
“For example, there is more deprivation in Torbay,” he says. “When you walk away, people are a bit more isolated. We are covering a huge geography and one of the first things I did was go out and talk to as many people as possible to understand what was going on, build relationships and get a plan very clear on how we can make a difference. ”
County Lines’ drug supply continues to be a problem. Heroin and cocaine are brought to the southwest by couriers from inland cities who supply it through runners to local drug addicts. Resellers have created a single phone line that they use to advertise the latest offers and organize delivery. They usually leave a few days later, bringing back the cash proceeds from the city sales.
Numerous high-profile police convictions in recent years have shown that downtown gangs are using more and more young people, often teenagers, to deliver drugs to them. It raises the question of whether they are criminals or exploited by their managers higher up the chain.
“My first experience of working in the drug team involved the search for drug dealers and arrests. This is very important and we must continue to do it, but in the end it has limited effectiveness. We must seize the opportunity where we can stop the cycle The most vulnerable people in this network must ask ourselves “how can we change your life so that this life is less attractive.” That’s why my proactive team works actively with vulnerable people in southern Devon. “
Last year Newton Abbot had an exacerbation of the youth disorder. The boss says that violent offensive and antisocial behavior began to decline even before it arrived thanks to the work of his predecessor and the Turning Corners project. Indeed, general crime was falling in southern Devon even before the coronavirus.
The death of George Floyd while he was arrested by police in the United States sparked a wave of protests around the world. It has led all those who hold authority, especially the police, to think about how minorities are treated. Dozens of protests and marches were organized in the southwest to promote the “Black Lives Matter” message.
“I would say it has been a very important thing in the past four weeks or so,” says Ch Supt Longman.
“It reminds us that we monitor by consensus and rely on the public to understand what we are doing. If we start losing our police model, it doesn’t work. If you are wrong, then you all need to deal with it. It was a national event in America that has tricked people into asking questions in this country. “
He said that BLM events in South Devon have been well attended and well behaved. The police had made every effort to understand the message and experiences of the people.
“I just enjoyed the first six months,” he says. “I would like to thank the partners for welcoming me. The team has been fantastic and I have seen the best people in very difficult situations. Obviously, I want to continue getting to know the people in the area and work through upcoming challenges.”