CYNICS who see the police as the last unreformed public sector fail to acknowledge the tremendous work carried out in the West Mercia force over many years, says departing Chief Constable Paul West.
In the eight years since he has been at the helm, overall crime has fallen from more than 100,000 a year to 70,000 – a drop of almost a third, with many of them being house burglaries which are reportedly the most devastating.
Under his leadership West Mercia established 145 local policing teams to provide “wall to wall coverage right across the force area”.
“I think we can look back with huge pride. CSOs have arrived in the West Mercia as new members of the police family and made a massive difference,” he said.
“Their great advantage is that they are not pulled away so they can spend all of their time out there getting to know the public.
“However, this superb record may or may not be sustained when the budget comes under increasing pressure from government cuts.
“The whole financial position continues to challenge, whether we place our resources in rural communities to get the reassurance that visible policing gives will again be called into question.
“I do see there being fewer people in the organisations and decisions will have to be taken but I do not see any risk to rural communities more than anywhere else.”
Proposals to replace the police authority with a directly appointed commissioner from next year is another uncertainty which ultimately led to Mr West leaving his post several years early.
“I would have stayed on for several more years but there does come a point when all you can be given is a one-year extension to your contract. That does not give the certainty to the organisation or to the individual,” he said
An academic with degrees in physics from Oxford; in human resources from Durham and a MSc in criminal justice from Michigan State University, the outgoing West Mercia chief remained popular with people from all parts of society for his ‘people skills’.
His tenure with Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcester force came to an end last week as he rode off into the sunset after heading up one of the most successful police forces in the country.
He had previously served with Durham Constabulary, taking over the Divisional Command at Sedgefield in 1992; becoming assistant chief constable with Thames Valley before joining West Mercia in August 2003.
He spent his final week touring his beloved patch saying goodbye to colleagues.
But he says his skills will not be lost with short term policing projects with overseas police forces in prospect.
His replacement will be deputy chief constable David Shaw who Mr West described as “a tremendous asset to the force”.
Before leaving, he took the time to thank local MP Owen Paterson for his backing for Oswestry’s anti-GHB operations and praised the officers who had targeted the drug in the town.
“It was a very successful operation that we had in Oswestry and it is a continuing one.
“The fact that Home Secretary Theresa May has written in support of our officers is very encouraging.
“In all of my eight years, Owen has been a hugely supportive MP. Even though he is heavily involved in Northern Ireland he is still active on local issues.”