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Okehampton welcomes police station 'open doors' after a decade

Okehampton Police Station enquiry office opens. Image: Radio Exe

Community part of policing had been missing

Okehampton Police Station has officially reopened to the public after more than a decade.

Community leaders say it will reassure local people and improve relationships with the police.

Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez said she is thrilled to be fulfilling a promise made  when she was first elected eight years ago to reopen the station’s enquiry office.

Okehampton is one of six police enquiry offices the commissioner has opened this week as she tours the county with acting chief constable Jim Colwell.

The others are Honiton, Kingsbridge, Looe, Ilfracombe and Devonport.  Exeter, Tavistock, Ivybridge and Liskeard will follow later this year.

Police station front desks allow access to walk-in services where people can speak to staff who can help with crime reporting, crime prevention advice and help with accessing victim services.

At one time most police stations in Devon and Cornwall had a front desk. All but 10 were closed around a decade ago to save money under the government's 'austerity ' policy.

The commissioner said she wants to rebuild public confidence in the police after those years, and the move to open police stations to the public again is supported by many residents.

The reopenings started in 2020 and there will be 18 in total by 2025 and 28 when the project is complete.

Cutting the ribbon at the official opening in Okehampton, Ms Hernandez said she is thankful that people are paying more in their council tax to fund the project.

“I know already that people are really delighted that they feel that policing is on their side because there is a visible investment in their communities."

And she added that, at 3,160, police officer numbers are now at the highest they have ever been. "We just need to get them visible and fully trained," she said.

Acting chief constable Jim Colwell said Devon and Cornwall police is investing in its reputation of being a force "truly connected to its communities.

“We do that in a number of different ways and this is one of the most important ways. You can do digital and things online, you can do things remotely, but face-to-face contact, support and advice and help when people need it is so important and so impactful.”

He said the constabulary is seeking to be a better force tomorrow than it is today.

West Devon inspector Chris Conway said feedback had been positive since the 'soft opening' a few weeks ago, with a steady flow of people through the doors.

He said the front enquiry desks are less reliant on footfall, as officers answer 101 calls and emails from members of the public when they are not answering face-to-face enquiries.

Retired Okehampton police officer and former Okehampton mayor Bob Tolley said it is crucial to return to personal contact to reinforce the police and community connection.

He said although the police had been in the station in Barton Road for 30 years, it is easy to forget that: “There are lots of aspects of policing based here but the community part has been the missing bit."

“Opening up the station can only be a good thing, as it will put people’s minds at rest that they can come here and talk to someone."

He continued: “I think it might save time for the police, because if someone can explain the situation to them it may not require a police attendance or they can deal with it more quickly. I think communication will improve.”

Elections for the police and crime commissioner take place on Thursday 2 May.

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