THE BIG READ: A model of today’s senior police officer marks his first year in Lincolnshire
Chief Constable Bill Skelly’s 28th year as a police officer has coincided with the end of his first year at the helm of the force in Lincolnshire.
The increasing threat of online, sexual and financial crime, combined with the challenge of hare coursing and other forms of rural lawbreaking have landed on Mr Skelly’s desk alongside what he described as “our traditional crimes”.
All of this against a backdrop of an increasingly stretched 2017-18 budget of £86.25million and, as reported by the BBC earlier this month, a plunge in the number of neighbourhood police officers from nearly 250 in 2012 to just over 100 in 2017.
Mr Skelly said: “I was very clear, from day one, that I had two main priorities.
“One was around the quality of service delivered to the people of Lincolnshire and the other was the wellbeing of my staff.
“Both priorities are intriniscally linked because people who feel good about themselves, and who are healthy, will do good work.
From day one, I had two main priorities - the quality of service delivered to the people of Lincolnshire and the wellbeing of my staff
“The amount of demand that’s on our staff means they are constantly under a huge amount of pressure, something I’m getting across to the workforce and the wider public as I get to understand the organisation.
“However, I’m really pleased with how things have gone in the last year and we’ve achieved a lot in the areas that I want to see progress in over the next five years.”
One of those area is rural crime and, in particular, hare coursing, where Mr Skelly confirmed a 25 per cent drop in the number of reported incidents since the revamped Operation Galileo was launched in September 2017.
Mr Skelly said: “A lot of the issues that were presented to me, from day one, were around people’s experiences of rural crime, how they felt isolated and that Lincolnshire Police and its partners weren’t really doing enough to recognise the problems they were facing.
“So one of my early tasks was to try and change that by addressing it, without it necessarily being about a massive increase in the number of resources.
“It’s just been about better communication, better dialogue with the public and others in the criminal justice system, along with being very focused on targeting those who are committing these offences.
“The feedback we’ve had from members of the rural community has been that they like what’s happening and they feel there’s a distinct change which I’m really encouraged by.”
But has the increased emphasis on what Mr Skelly called the “proactive policing” of rural crime come at the expense of community safety in towns like Spalding, Holbeach and Crowland where a discussion about ongoing youth crime took up nearly 45 minutes of this month’s parish council meeting?
Mr Skelly said: “As a police service, we look at whatever is happening in Lincolnshire every day and there’s a daily discussion about problems, such as a series of burglaries having taken place, so that we can allocate our time and effort to deal with it.
“At the same time, I’m clear not to be too interfering in the daily running of policing in South Holland and the Deepings because there are a lot of really good people whose job that is, whether it’s neighbourhood sergeants, sector inspectors or the senior management team.
“There are also other partners, like county, district and parish councils, who are involved in helping to support the police in the day-to-day running of things in South Holland and the Deepings.
“My role is to give direction as to where the priorities are and where the emphasis should be, providing some of the physical resources for local area policing team to work with.
“But I’m aware of what is going on and, in the case of Crowland, I’ll certainly look into and ask the various people who are responsible for managing the area what kind of activity is ongoing in the town.
“I’m also more than happy to come along to Crowland Parish Council and speak to them directly about the kinds of things we’re doing, as well as talking to them about the problems they are experiencing.”
A married father-of-two, Mr Skelly is originally from eastern Scotland who started his career with Lothian and Borders Police in 1990.
He went on to complete a Strategic Command Course at the College of Policing in Hampshire in 2004 and then achieved a diploma in criminology at Cambridge University.
Mr Skelly then joined the Metropolitan Police’s Immigration Crime Team in 2005 until, three years later, Mr Skelly was appointed as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland.
Deputy Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police was Mr Skelly’s next move in December 2013 and it was from there that he joined Lincolnshire Police as Chief Constable in February 2017.
One of the legacies left by his predecessor Neil Rhodes, who retired in January 2017, was the fight against what Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones described as the force’s “perilous funding situation”.
A council tax rise of nearly £12 for 2018-19, putting the average Band D precept figure up from £205.47 in 2017-18 to £217.44 from April, will bring an extra £2.7million into the coffers of Lincolnshire Police.
But Mr Skelly said: “The force is walking towards a cliff edge and if we get to it, and have to go over it, we’ll see services and people withing the organisation significantly reduced.
“What we’ve managed to do in the 12 months that I’ve been here is to have a short-term solution which essentially relies on people paying more on their council tax.
“So we’ve found ourselves in a position where we’ve pushed things a year further away.
“But my warning is that if, in a year and a half’s time, money runs out and there’s a funding gap equating to 100 officers and 60 PCSOs, then you would get less of a police service that takes longer.”