TWO months from now, polling stations across the country will open their doors for the election of new police and crime commissioners (PCC) in each of the country’s police force areas.

Some say that this is the biggest change to policing in nearly 200 years, as the new PCCs in the county will have responsibility for budgets, setting and updating a police and crime plan and regularly engaging with the public and communities.

However, is anyone actually aware that this massive change is taking place? According to research conducted recently by Victim Support, 45 per cent of people across the East of England said that they did not know about the elections and only one per cent said that they knew who all of the candidates in their police force area were to be.

Whether you know about it or not, this change is coming and it's important that people realise that this could have a big effect on their experience of the criminal justice system.

Alongside responsibility for the police, PCCs will also be responsible making sure that victims and witnesses of crime get help too.

It's essential that the PCCs address the needs of victims and witnesses as a priority. Our research shows that 49 per cent of people across the East of England want the PCC to prioritise victims, and that is why Victim Support has launched a manifesto and set of pledges to ensure victims and witnesses of crime come first.

PCCs will have a statutory duty of responsibility towards victims, but we want them to use their powers to transform the experience of victims and witnesses.

We want to encourage and help Cambridgeshire's PCC to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, and we believe he or she can do so by committing to the Victim Support manifesto and pledges.

The Victim Support pledges include being more open and accountable to victims and witnesses, making police more responsive to their needs, ensuring that they get the help they need and giving them a louder voice in the criminal justice system.

We also want PCCs to explore ways to improve the experience of victims and witnesses continuously, year on year.

Crime can and does wreck lives. Even what might be seen as relatively minor crimes can have a major and sometimes permanent effect on victims or witnesses. Offering the right level of practical and emotional help and support to victims of crime at this traumatic time is the hallmark of a just and compassionate society.

We believe that, as well as directly helping people affected by crime, by putting victims first the PCC can help to improve confidence in the police and the justice system as a whole. This can lead to more people coming forward to report crimes and more witnesses willing to testify.

We already have Ed Murphy (Labour) and Ansar Ali (Independent) signed up to support our campaign. Now Victim Support is calling on all candidates who share our values to sign up to the manifesto and pledges and to help us raise awareness of the upcoming elections so that people across the county can make informed decisions about the future of criminal justice in their area.

Our organisation has been helping victims for almost 40 years, and we look forward to offering the victorious candidate the benefit of our expertise throughout his or her term of office.

DAVID PADGETT

Divisional manager

Victim Support