POLICE and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones pledged to improve Hampshire Constabulary after accepting Whitehill Town Council leader Andy Tree’s invitation to an hour-long question-and-answer session on Zoom last Thursday.

As well as those joining online, the audience was boosted by town council members and staff waiting for their executive committee meeting which followed afterwards.

Cllr Tree began by asking Ms Jones about her job. She has previous experience in banking, with Portsmouth City Council and as a magistrate, and felt she “did all the kinds of things I have to be aware of here”.

Ms Jones said: “I took over in May 2021 and it’s a growing role. The home secretary is reviewing the role at the end of February 2022. He is considering giving us greater powers over the criminal justice system.

“I have been trying to raise the profile of the commissioner, explain the decisions and show the benefits of having a police and crime commissioner – for example speed cameras on the A32/A272 junction at West Meon Hut, improving support charities for crime victims, holding the police to account, setting the precept and budget, and drawing up the police and crime plan.

“I’m up for re-election in 2024 and representing more than two million people is a huge privilege.”

Cllr Tree asked how the police’s 4.4 per cent council tax rise would translate into what people saw in terms of reducing anti-social behaviour and criminal damage, which he said were “key areas of concern” in Whitehill & Bordon.

Ms Jones said: “The 4.4 per cent raises £7m to £9m. It depends how many people pay council tax next year. It pays for extra police, for Hampshire to have 498 more police officers than in January 2020. I need 102 more to get to my target of 600 and I have put money aside for them.

“The police have not had a pay rise for four years and I have put a 3.5 per cent rise in my budget. There is an overall increase of £28min Hampshire Constabulary funding this year.

“Hampshire is the fourth-largest force outside the Met and it works on a high harm model, concentrating on the big crimes. People are so clearly frustrated that medium and lower level crimes are not responded to as they should be. I am saying you have 600 more police – this is what we expect from you. People also want feedback on 101 calls.

“Anti-social behaviour rises because Hampshire is high harm only. I have set up the police’s first anti-social behaviour task force. There is money in the pot to tackle anti-social behaviour issues – for example, to encourage teenagers to go and play pool or darts rather than start a bonfire or damage a cricket pitch and pavilion.”

Cllr Tree asked Ms Jones what she would say to people who said reporting anti-social behaviour did not result in the protection they were looking for.

Ms Jones said: “Keep reporting. Until now there hasn’t been a resource for lower-level crimes but all 600 extra police should be in place by the end of March 2023.

“The more that police can engage these kids, the more you can stop them stealing cars and breaking into outbuildings and houses three years down the line.”

She added the top five priorities in her police and crime plan, which runs until 2024, were the 600 extra police, increasing police visibility – possibly putting neighbourhood policing teams into disused shops – anti-social behaviour, knife crime and “unauthorised encampments”.

Resident Mark Gorham said: “What about the victims of anti-social behaviour? There’s been drugs, sex, drinking – three years of low-level anti-social behaviour. I should never have moved here – it’s been a complete nightmare.”

Ms Jones replied: “I’m really sorry to hear about that. It sounds like it’s been a nightmare. Public Space Protection Orders are not being used as much as they could be. I have signed off funding for two more solicitors to do that. It gives police the ability to move people on from parks who are doing things they shouldn’t be but not quite at the level of arrest.”

Another resident, who gave her name as Helen, said: “In the subway by One-Stop there is smashed glass and vodka bottles – it’s very unsafe for people, dogs and cats.

“I don’t go in the subway daily but when I go there you’ll see glass and one or two vodka bottles, so you must have people who swig their bottles of vodka there every night. It’s difficult for me with a chubber of a dog – you can’t carry it.”

Sgt Simeon Poulton, who also logged in for the meeting, explained it was hard to pin down such behaviour as a crime.

He said: “It depends on what they’re smashing and what they’re smashing it against. It could be criminal damage. Glass could be litter. Depending how you’re smashing it, it could be a public order offence, but only if someone is there.”

A third resident, Linda, asked whether police funding automatically went up in proportion to the number of new houses being built.

Ms Jones said: “New homes pay council tax, and the Home Office formula grant crudely looks at housing numbers, but it doesn’t give a significant increase.”

She said she wanted new neighbourhood policing bases in Bordon and Alton, and was looking at sharing the fire stations. She added that by December Hampshire Constabulary would be back to the number of police it had in 2016.

Summing up her goals for 2022, she said: “We need to give detailed feedback through 101 about what is being done. It restores confidence in policing and makes people feel it was worth reporting it.

“This year I hope to see an improvement of 101, police visibility and the amount of medium and lower level crime responded to, to bring crime levels down.”