THE public is being urged to “ride along” with police officers to help boost confidence in the force.

In a special briefing at Kidlington police headquaters yesterday to talk about the challenges facing the Thames Valley Police, Chief Constable Sara Thornton said tackling rising sexual crimes would remain a priority, while taking on new threats like cyber crime.

But she also wants to build on what she describes as the force’s most valuable assets – its reputation.

She said: “My experience is when people meet police officers, listen to them and see them do their job, they invariably have much greater confidence,” adding “if we want the public to come forward as witnesses we need to have high confidence levels”.

More than 5,000 of the force’s officers have this year been trained in the College of Policing’s new code of ethics, and the force has also set up a new and independent Complaints, Integrity and Ethics Panel to review complaints against officers.

It comes after high-profile police scandals including “Plebgate” concerning an altercation between Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Metropolitan Police officers.

Ms Thornton explained yesterday that the Thames Valley force is also having to tackle a rise in reported sex crimes.

In Oxford alone between April 2013 and March this year there were 71 reported sex crimes – up 44.9 per cent on the 49 reported in the same period the year before.

She said the force had already saved £58m from its annual budget of more than £400m a year through various efficiency savings.

She added that despite having to shave £38m off its budget in the next three years, protecting the vulnerable would remain the force’s top priority and a new multi-agency safeguarding hub (Mash) was due to launch at Cowley police station next month.

Mash will be made up of police officers, social workers and health workers, who will share their information to identify and protect the county’s most vulnerable.

When asked if the force could rise to the challenge with limited funding, Ms Thornton said the resources would be found, adding: “We have to make sure we focus our resources on those areas and make sure our staff are trained to deal with them.

“It will be tough but we will give it our best shot. We have demonstrated over the last three or four years that we can both reduce budgets and reduce crime.

“It is about getting more bang for your buck.”

The Kingfisher team – also made up of police and social workers – was set up in 2012 to help potential victims of child sexual exploitation after Operation Bullfinch exposed the organised grooming and abuse of vulnerable girls living in council care in Oxford.

Ms Thornton yesterday said that some 185 potential victims of child sex exploitation had now been referred to the force in Oxfordshire since 2012.

  • Anyone interested in the ride-along scheme should speak to the neighbourhood police team at their nearest station or call 101.
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