Alison Hernandez has been the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Devon and Cornwall since 2016, when she was elected as the Conservative party’s candidate.

She went on to win an overwhelming majority the second time around in 2021, but this May she is up for re-election. And in what could be one of her many public appearances in the coming months, she recently attended the official re-opening of Kingsbridge police station, one of many throughout the region.

The initiative, which will eventually see 28 police enquiry offices (PEOs) open across Devon and Cornwall (D&C), is a cornerstone of her policy to reintroduce a more direct, face-to-face service - something many have long been clamouring for at a time when the force is still reeling from years of staff cutbacks and police station closures.

“It’s something to be proud of,” she told this paper. “It’s taken me years to get the finances right to make that work, but it’s definitely the right thing to do – we’re the only one in the country opening as many as we have.”

Nothing is certain, though, and if she is not re-elected as PCC she said she would like to be remembered for having “the highest number of police officers we’ve ever had”, in reference to a recruitment drive that has seen an additional 686 officers join D&C since 2016.

Critics will however claim that both the new jobs and the re-opening of police stations are simply a reversal of previous austerity measures introduced by the Conservatives.

While officer numbers have indeed increased by six per cent since 2010 to just over 3,700 officers, Home Office figures also show that there are still fewer officers per member of the public than in 2012, due to the fact that the population has increased by eight per cent.

The opening of police front desks is also widely seen as a reversal of a previous policy to close police stations (some 26 reportedly closed in D&C between 2010 and 2018), but Ms Hernandez distanced herself from previous Conservative strategy.

“I was elected in 2016 on a promise to the public that I would review police station closures, and I have done that.”

She also expressed pride at the fact that Devon has one of the lowest crimes rates in the country but warned that violent crime was rising.

“That’s probably been my biggest headache,” she said, adding that anti-social behaviour (ASB) was one of the biggest crime-related problems in D&C.

Firing a broadside at local authorities, she called on councils to become more involved. “ASB is everywhere and it’s not being tackled well enough between councils and the police. A lot of it that may need to be dealt with is actually the responsibility of local councils,” she stressed.

A total of £1 million has been earmarked to tackle the issue at a local level, but she hinted that the cash would have a limited impact in the long-term.

“What we’ll see is one year’s worth of a lot of effort and then there might be a bit of a challenge trying to sustain it. At the moment, I’m pleased that we’ve got the extra funding from the government - they’ve recognised it’s a national challenge – but it largely can only be spent on police officer overtime.”

As with all types of violent crime, the clamour for tougher sentencing, including longer jail terms for offenders, is always at the front of people’s minds - particularly during elections – and Ms Hernandez has gone on record to say she supports robust jail sentences for sexual offenders.

Despite this, she recognised that tougher sentencing might not be a successful deterrent in itself.

“Tougher sentencing is really there to protect the public from those horrible individuals who do harmful things to people, but fundamentally they don’t care about the consequences.

“It isn’t necessary a deterrent, if I’m being frank – it’s a deterrent to ordinary, law abiding people.”

She cited the ‘Prisoners building homes’ programme in the South West as an example of a forward-thinking policy that could be more successful in the long run than simply deciding to lock people away.

The scheme, involving nine prisons across the country, aims to have more than 40 serving or recently released prisoners in full-time employment, building dozens of affordable, modular homes across 14 sites.

“They are getting paid a fair wage and that means that when they leave (prison) they’ve got some money to help themselves with their own lives,” she said.

An equally contentious issue involves criminal activity within the force. Hernandez herself was under investigation for a brief time in 2017, when the Police Complaints Commission referred a matter related to election expenses to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Although the probe was dropped within weeks, the incident was a stark reminder of what can happen when trust between police and the public breaks down, especially so when cases involve serious offences.

According to Home Office figures up to April last year, 115 officers and 43 staff across the UK were found guilty of crimes, including violence and sexual offences. That is an increase of 68 and 25 respectively from the year before.

In addition, more than 150 police officers and staff were found guilty of crimes, up 70 per cent compared to 2022.

In Devon, three cases have come to light in the last year. In April 2023, a police constable was dismissed from the force after lying about being sick with Covid in order to take time off.

While that was a relatively minor incident, it was followed by an infinitely more serious case involving PC Sam Smith, from Kingsbridge, who was found guilty of stealing £18,000 from a rich widow in Dartmouth.

The latest case involves a 48-year-old officer who this month was charged with rape. Meanwhile, a BBC report last week revealed that seven women have accused D&C Police of failing to investigate serving and former officers for sexual violence and domestic abuse.

“Really good cops – and there are many of them in Devon and Cornwall – loathe those that go against their own integrity and against the whole purpose of their jobs. In fact, most cops are reported by other cops for their bad behaviour – they don’t want to see their whole reputation tarnished by people who shouldn’t be in the organisation,” she pointed out, while applauding the Chief Constable’s efforts in addressing the problem.

“I can tell you he is dismissing and not letting people stay in the organisation as quickly as he can, and as soon as he’s got evidence around it.”

Any regrets during her time in office?

“I have built a very eco-friendly police station in Exeter - it’s one of the top 10 most sustainable buildings in the country - but it cost £29 million and I’ll never be happy about the cost of that.”