Jon Desborough talks to Martyn Underhill Dorset's new Police and Crime Commissioner
PUBLISHED: 17:03 15 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:14 26 February 2013
Martyn Underhill is the county's first Police and Crime Commissioner and, in this exclusive interview to mark his 100th day in office, he tells Jon Desborough that he wants to improve crime detection rates in Dorset and give victims a voice
A Man with a Mission
Martyn Underhill is the countys first Police and Crime Commissioner and, in this exclusive interview to mark his 100th day in office, he tells Jon Desborough that he wants to improve crime detection rates in Dorset and give victims a voice
Martyn Underhill is the man elected in November last year to be the voice of Dorset inside its police headquarters. He believes that there must be an intermediary between the police and the public. This chimes with government reforms that created the new role of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) which stipulated that the police had to be more accountable. Now each county has one.
As the PCC, I am the voice of the public, says Martyn, 54, so it is important that the public tell me their issues.
Martyn, who lives in Poole with his partner Debs and stepdaughter Jessica, was a Detective Chief Inspector with Sussex Police up until his retirement in 2009. An area of expertise he has made his own - child abduction - grew out of the tragic circumstances of the murder of Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered by a convicted sex offender, Roy Whiting, in West Sussex in summer 2000. It was a high profile case which led to the setting up of Sarahs Law, named in the little girls memory, which allowed parents access to lists of registered sex offenders - like Whiting - who live locally.
Martyn saw the investigation through from the day of Sarahs disappearance to Whitings sentencing. He was the first officer to be commended by the Sussex Police Authority for this work on the case. But Martyn is modest and cites Child Rescue Alert - a partnership between the police, press and public aimed at locating and saving abducted children - as his greatest achievement. He launched it in 2003 with Sarahs mother, Sara.
Martyn retired from the Sussex force to Dorset but continued his child abduction work in an advisory role on other high-profile murder cases such as Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Millie Dowler and most recently April Jones in Wales.
He has four years as PCC in Dorset, a county he knows well from living here and lecturing at Bournemouth University and working for several charities and in related areas of education and research.
Martyn says his experience has taught him that the victims of crime are all too often the forgotten element - a trend he wants to reverse.
Part of my vision is improving restorative justice, he says. Victims want to know who committed the crime against them and why. This cant be done in every case, for example serious assaults or murders, but in most volume crime, the victim wants to meet the offender. This method can also teach the offender about victim empathy and hopefully, change their path.
It is also important that victims have a voice, says Martyn, so I intend to set up a Victims Bureau to support victims through the (court and legal) process, and keep them updated.
I am also setting up a Victims Forum, so I can hear about the victims journeys and find out how to meet their needs.
Martyn knows that being accountable means bridging the gap between an often faceless police force and the public. He has set up a personal email address and the public can also write to him in confidence.
This is outside the police system, which I believe is important as the public should have the opportunity to contact me in confidence - be it about a crime, policing issues or police complaints.
And people can - and do - come to me with their problems. I didnt expect it, but we were receiving 300 to 400 direct contacts from the public each day. In fact in my first six weeks there were two issues we resolved in this way.
The first related to delayed responses to calls to 101 - the new non-emergency phone number.
The second issue was vehicle crime, says Martyn. Victims were upset that the police dealt with this on the phone. So I discussed this and since January 2nd, whenever possible, a police officer now attends all incidents of vehicle crime.
Martyn wishes that he could change as swiftly the way the police investigates complaints against them. He believes even more vehemently since becoming PCC that they should be dealt with outside the force.
But unfortunately the option to change the Police Complaints Procedure currently falls outside my remit - I have to pass complaints on to the police to investigate
This is an issue for me as I do not think that it is right that the police force should investigate itself.
Martyn dismisses criticism levelled at the job when it was first mooted that the PCCs would be little more than figureheads.
I am here to represent the wishes of the public in policing. It is a huge role that deals with many different agencies. I can make a difference.
Dorset Police is an excellent force and is performing well in most areas. However, I am keen to improve the number of people who are held to account for their crimes, it is very low in Dorset, one of the lowest in the country.
I have asked the Chief Constable for a plan that will improve this and make Dorset a safer place to live.
Martyns other immediate concern is Dorsets mental health provision.
Mentally ill people in crisis deserve a proper place of safety, not a police cell. This whole process also takes away police officers from day-to-day policing. I have raised this with the Home Secretary.
Rural policing budgets often suffer in favour of metropolitan areas but Martyn thinks this is short-sighted.
Half of Dorset lives in the conurbations of Poole and Bournemouth and half lives rurally. I believe our county needs specific additional funding, recognising the needs of the rural community.
If his first 100 days are anything to go by, Martyn Underhill is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
The Man: Martyn enjoys walking his dogs and fishing. He is a member of Bournemouth Little Theatre Club, the oldest amateur drama club in the area.Favourite song: Hotel California by The Eagles Favourite football team: Arsenal Football Club. Favourite book: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett What I love about Dorset: The people and their huge community spirit
Contacting Dorset PCC
You can contact Martyn Underhill by email: email@example.com or by post: The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset
Dorset, DT2 8DX
Or call (01202 or 01305) 223966.
For general information visit: www.dorset.pcc.police.uk