New police chief aims to make the streets of Tonbridge safer

Kent Police defy national trend by  recruiting 200 extra officers

The county’s new Police & Crime Commissioner has met Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council leaders to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the area.

Matthew Scott, who was elected in May, has placed tackling anti-social behaviour and employing more officers among his key priorities.

While levels of crime in Tonbridge remain low in comparison to national trends, analysis of latest figures showed anti-social behaviour has proved the biggest single challenge facing the town.

The problem was highlighted when police deployed an official public dispersal order banning individuals from gathering in the High Street earlier this summer.

According to police figures, between July 2015 and June 2016 there were 257 anti-social incidents (around 30 per cent of all crimes) in central Tonbridge. Violence and sexual offences were the second biggest issue as 178 cases were recorded in that category in the past year.

Speaking exclusively to the Times, Mr Scott said that despite the strain of a budget shortfall of £33million a year for the next four years, Kent Police is recruiting an extra 400 officers, taking the overall total to 3,260.

According to the Commissioner, who comes from a policing family and oversees an annual police budget of around £313m, he felt that maintaining a visible police presence across communities was of vital importance.

Mr Scott said: “I had a very good meeting with Tonbridge & Malling leader Nicolas Heslop. We have a good relationship with the borough’s Community Safety Partnership, and what I heard from the council was very much in line with my own priority for keeping residents safe.

“We also discussed mental health as that has created pressure on police (through incidents with an element of mental health issues), as well as matters raised by residents, including anti-social behaviour and road policing.

“Other issues included levels of visible policing and rural crime, and making sure people feel they are getting a good level of service.”

Mr Scott, 32, who was formerly an office manager for Bexleyheath and Crayford MP David Evennett, says his Westminster experience also proved valuable in terms of engaging with a broad section of the community.

He is thought to be the youngest to take up this role, succeeding Ann Barnes. He is continuing some of her policies, such as backing an increase in the number of armed police officers in Kent in response to the heightened terror threat facing the UK.

Mr Scott’s campaign has received support from Tonbridge MP Tom Tugendhat, and the Commissioner has set out a six-point plan of action. This includes work on cutting crime and reducing reoffending, delivering value for money, visible policing, putting victims at the heart of the justice system, and tackling domestic abuse and mental health issues.

The Swanley-based Commissioner felt his first few months have proved challenging but rewarding. He said: “I am getting out and about as much as I can to look at issues residents have raised.”

Mr Scott said his first 100 days in office had included backing the recruitment of 50 PCSOs and raising £570,000 to help victims of crime.

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