'Huge challenge' for police czar to tackle soaring crime
Candidates vying to become Devon and Cornwall's new policing czar need to explain how they would tackle soaring crime levels, say ministers.
Damian Green, who holds the police brief in government, admitted there was a "challenge" in the force area, which bucked the national downward trend, and recorded by far the biggest hike in offending in England and Wales last year.
It was one of only three forces in the country to see an increase, the others being Essex and Northamptonshire with rises of 1%.
The Tory Minister also waded into the row over the controversial move to recruit a "spin doctor" earning up to £55,000 for Devon and Cornwall's new crime commissioner.
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Mr Green said the decision by the appointed police authority underlined the need for the democratically-elected new office, which would be accountable to the public at the ballot box.
Nominations closed today for next month's poll to choose the force's police and crime commissioner (PCC).
It comes as latest figures showed overall crime recorded by Devon and Cornwall police soared by 7% in the year to June, while across England and Wales it fell by 6%.
Questioned over the figures, Mr Green told the Western Morning News: "Over most of the country it's falling, in Devon and Cornwall it's rising. That requires everyone concerned, not least the PCC candidates, to explain how they are going to ensure that crime starts falling in Devon and Cornwall, the way it is in the vast majority of the rest of the country."
He added: "Clearly there's a challenge in Devon and Cornwall which is a particular challenge for the various candidates for the PCC."
On the move to appoint a media manager for the incoming commissioner, with pay of £45,000-£55,000, the Minister said: "This illustrates very precisely why democratic election is better.
"That if somebody appoints expensive media officers or anyone else they will then have to justify that to an electorate in a way that police authorities have never had to.
"That's why democracy works. You have to go back in another election later and justify what you have done."
Mr Green also confirmed £3 million was being spent on an advertising campaign to raise the profile of the elections on November 15.
The Police and Crime Commissioner, who will be paid £85,000 a year in Devon and Cornwall, will have the power to hire and fire chief constables and will also set the force's budget and "strategic direction".
There has been fierce criticism of the way the election has been managed, with independent candidates saying it is weighted in favour of the big party candidates.
Mr Green said anyone was able to stand, with all candidates given equal billing on the dedicated website set up.