This month I spent two days travelling across the South West of England, in my ongoing mission to visit every police force to see the innovative methods they use and the challenges they face.

Rural areas are often understandably seen as presenting a lower demand than our urban areas but they present their own unique challenges, primarily in relation to geography. In Devon and Cornwall, for example, there are just 0.7 officers per square mile, compared to 44 in London, making it very difficult to maintain a decent emergency response time.  What’s more, Devon and Cornwall is responsible for policing 500 miles of coastline and for ten miles out to sea – challenges we simply aren’t used to in South Yorkshire!

For the police, keeping on top of new tech is really important for keeping control of crime, and Avon and Somerset’s new software Qlik Sense is helping them run data analytics to help with police management and community policing.

In Dorset I heard about some of the fantastic new innovations being deployed, like their digital dog – a sniffer dog trained to pick up on the chemicals used in digital devices like USB sticks and mobile phones. So far he’s already caught around 50 people, mostly for crimes such as child abuse where offenders have stored their images on USB sticks rather than keep them on their hard drive.. But there are more disappointing statistics too - they’re facing a 12% yearly rise in calls to 101 and 999, including 5,300 reported missing persons.

Gloucestershire have been working on tackling and understanding the rise in violent and youth crime, something that has been a troubling trend nationwide, and have been working with Crimestoppers in schools to help educate children about the dangers they could face. Increasingly cars are single-crewed, leading to risks for officers out alone, and they’re having to deal with complex issues including cyber crime, modern day slavery and child neglect. About 40% of their contact with the public involves mental health.

It’s striking how similar issues affect forces all across the country, including the trafficking of children by drug rings in county lines operations, a worrying number of missing persons cases and huge rise in issues around mental health.

The problems are similar, and so are the solutions – we need enough officers for the restoration of neighbourhood policing, sufficient resources and innovation to deal with the new forms of crime the police have to deal with, and the restoration of our public services, whose running down has put extra pressure on the emergency services. You can’t protect the public on the cheap, and the Government’s failure to understand that is putting communities all across the country at risk.