The major decline in police officer numbers in Devon and Cornwall – caused by Government cuts and blamed for a recent rise in crime – could be halted. Police and crime commissioner Tony Hogg is still weighing up his budget proposals for 2013-14 with no word yet on whether the public will be asked to pay more for policing. But Mr Hogg, who published his police and crime plan yesterday , told the Western Morning News he may be able to maintain the current strength of 3,100.
"What we may be able to do is protect the numbers," Mr Hogg, who was elected in November, said. "If there is one thing people want to know it is that we are doing our damnedest to arrest the decline from 3,500 to 2,810.
"I think (Chief Constable) Shaun Sawyer has got a good idea that he doesn't want to go down to the bottom number. My job, with him, is to protect those numbers and that will be the basis for parts of the plan and the budget decision."
Devon and Cornwall Police has been faced with making budget savings of £50 million in the four years to 2015 to meet Government cuts.
Police numbers had been forecast to drop by 700 to a low of 2,810 – a number last seen in the early 1980s. About 500 police staff were also expected to lose their jobs.
But while hundreds of police officers were being forced to retire, crime in the two counties spiked by 7%.
The pensions regulation, which compulsorily made officers retire after 30 years' service, was suspended last September after greater savings were achieved than had been expected – a trend which is thought to have continued.
Council tax Band D properties in Devon and Cornwall currently pay £159.66 a year for policing. Mr Hogg may choose to increase that by up to 2%, above which he would be forced to hold a referendum.
He also has the option of accepting a one-year Government grant to freeze council tax levels although the cash is not built into the baseline.
Meanwhile, the fledgling police and crime panel in Devon and Cornwall has complained of the "very short time scale" available to consider possible tax rises.
The panel, which is made up of local councillors and some independents, met for the first time in Plymouth on Thursday.
It is charged with holding Mr Hogg to account and has the key power to veto decisions, including over the appointment of the chief constable and the level of tax precept set for local policing.
But it has emerged that the panel's chairman, Devon County Councillor Roger Croad, had already written to the Home Office to complain about the lack of time it would have to examine budget proposals.
"The timetable leaves a minimum of just one week between notification by the police and crime commissioner of the proposed precept, and the deadline for the panel to respond," his letter said.
"The same period applies to the arrangements for a revised precept following any veto.
"This very short timescale appears to be arranged to allow maximum time for the commissioner, at the expense of the panel's time to respond, and does nothing to promote effective democratic oversight and scrutiny of the issue."
In his reply, Police Minister Damian Green conceded that the February 1 deadline for PCCs to announce their council tax plans was "challenging" but that he was "confident" it would be achieved.
Mr Green also said he would "give consideration" to how the process had worked and whether it should be revised in future.
The committee agreed that it would meet on February 8 to discuss the appointment of Shaun Sawyer as the force's new chief constable.
Mr Hogg's council tax plans will also be debated on that date.