We asked you what you want. And the overwhelming answer we got was - more bobbies on the beat.
A resounding 60 per cent of respondents to The Gazette’s online survey ahead of the election of a new police and crime commissioner said improving the visibility of policing on the beat should be the number one priority.
Today, all four candidates pledged to put the issue at the forefront of their campaigns.
And victims of crime joined community leaders in backing the call.
Penny Clough, whose 26-year-old daughter Jane was murdered by her ex-partner Jonathan Vass in the car park of Blackpool Victoria Hospital two years ago, said: “The police are spread too thinly.
“It’s clear the scale of issues they are having to deal with is huge.”
Official findings released by the force show that, as of March this year there were 3,122 police officers working for Lancashire Police - 537 fewer than in March 2009.
Reducing reoffending and more consultation with the public were next in the list of priorities from readers, who also said they wanted to see more support for victims.
Residents go to the ballot box on November 15 to elect Lancashire’s first ever police and crime commissioner.
Four candidates – Tim Ashton (Conservative), Clive Grunshaw (Labour), Afzal Anwar (Lib Dem) and Robert Drobny (UKIP) – are competing for the job which comes with an £85,000 salary.
Mrs Clough said she wanted the police to go back to crime-fighting - rather than being swamped with all of society’s problems.
She said: “Programme’s like Channel 4’s 999 What’s Your Emergency? show how few police there are on the streets to deal with so much.
“It’s clear they are dealing with matters which are social problems. This incredible workload is taking them away from what they should be doing, which is tackling frontline crime.”
Anita Bakewell, whose business has been targeted by vandals and metal thieves, agreed.
Mrs Bakewell, who owns the Model Village at Stanley Park, said: “We see the police and community support offices (PCSOs) but I would like to see more real officers, and I would like them to have less paperwork to do so they can get on with proper crime work. I want them to go back to being a police force, not a police service.
“They are taking on issues which should really be for social services. Let’s have a return to a force which really fights crime.”
Ronald Owen, 78, of St Annes, who was assaulted while he walked his dog in Lytham’s Witchwood in 2011, said: “The police are dwindling away.
“There are not enough officers on the beat, and the police stations are not open enough.”
Local community crime fighter Julie Boscombe, who is also Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator for Revoe in Blackpool, said it was vital there was more involvement from communities in tackling crime.
She said: “I have nothing bad to say about the police apart from there are not enough of them and they have to spread themselves too thinly. But communities need to start doing more for themselves.
“I would like to see more resources targeted at groups like Neighbourhood Watch so they can tell people everything going on in their area and help solve some of the problems.”
Mary Naylor, community advocate for Marton, where a PCSO is already funded out of the councillors’ ward budget, said she had noticed fewer police on the streets recently.
She said: “Unfortunately over the last few months, the police presence seems to have disappeared from Marton. We certainly aren’t seeing them on our streets. So that’s the priority, because when the police are more visible, it certainly helps prevent crime.”
Lancashire is one of 41 forces in England and Wales which will replace its current police authority with a police and crime commissioner. The authorities were set up in 1995 - up until then police services were run through local councils, just like other local services such as education.
The Lancashire Police Authority is made up of 17 members, nine of which are councillors, with the other eight being independent members selected on merit.
Lancashire Police Authority Chief Executive Miranda Carruthers-Watt, said: “We are just a few weeks from the election but there is still time to register to vote and ensure you have a say on who becomes Lancashire’s very first PCC. There’s lots of information available about this election and about the candidates. Voters can visit the dedicated websites or can call to receive information in the post.
“As well as the LPA’s campaign, there’s lots of work going on behind the scenes to ensure all staff are prepared for this change and we’re working closely with Lancashire Police to ensure the transition is a smooth one.”
HERE ARE YOUR CRIME COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES
Having served as a special constable himself, UKIP candidate Robert Drobny believes he is in a better position than anyone to understand the contribution the volunteers can make when it comes to beefing up the police presence on the street.
He advocates recruiting more specials county-wide in order to answer the call for more bobbies on the beat.
Mr Drobny, who lives in Knott End, said: “It is my policy to increase policing on the streets and definitely to increase the recruitment of special constables. They have the same powers as regular officers but because it is a voluntary role, it is a more cost effective way of policing.”
The Preesall town councillor would also like to link up more closely with local authorities to ensure their intervention programmes operate in line with policing initiatives.
Tim Ashton believes putting more bobbies back on the beat is the number one priority for most residents.
The Lancashire county and Fylde councillor, standing on the Conservative ticket, has also pledged to recruit more special constables if he is elected, and believes crime-fighting is a community-wide issue with potential to make better use of volunteers such as the ‘street pastors’ which already operate in some areas.
Coun Ashton said: “We want to make sure we get officers out from behind their desks. I would want to work with local authorities. We have 80 civil enforcement officers in Lancashire and I want to give them high visibility jackets and get them to work with our police officers. They are in the busy areas and can give people reassurance and that is about working in partnership more effectively.”
Labour’s candidate Clive Grunshaw is the only candidate to have served on the Lancashire Police Authority and believes this has given him an insight into many of the problems which need to be addressed.
For the past four years he has chaired the authority’s Resources Committee which has had the challenge of identifying the savings which need to be made through budget cuts.
The Fleetwood-based Wyre councillor pledged to build the public’s priorities into his policing plan if he is elected.
He said: “I have held several street stalls to find out more about residents’ concerns. A recurring theme is the real concern people have about the loss of police jobs and PCSOs. The public want direct contact with the police and to maintain and build on the relationship of trust and support.”
Nelson-based barrister Afzal Anwar has seen all sides of the criminal justice system, having worked in the law courts for the past 10 years.
The Liberal Democrat says this puts him in a strong position for the job.
And he believes communities do feel safer when they see a more visible police presence, even though statistics suggest crime levels are falling.
Mr Anwar said: “A lot of the figures which come out of the Home Office suggest crime is in decline but unfortunately the public’s perception is that there is more and more crime, and maybe that is because of anti-social behaviour. So it is very important to have a more visible police presence because it gives the public extra confidence and that would be one of my main priorities.
“To get any community feeling safer, we need to understand how to do that.”