Devon and Cornwall Police

Devon and Cornwall Police is the territorial police force responsible for policing the counties of Devon and Cornwall, including the unitary authority areas of Plymouth, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly.

Devon and Cornwall Police
MottoIn Auxilium Omnium
To the assistance of everybody
Agency overview
Formed1 April 1967
Preceding agencies
Annual budget£256.8 million[1]
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdictionDevon and Cornwall, England
Map of police area
Size3,961 square miles (10,260 km2)
Population1.65 million
Legal jurisdictionEngland & Wales
Constituting instrument
General nature
Operational structure
Overviewed byHer Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary/Independent Police Complaints Commission
HeadquartersMiddlemoor, Exeter
Constables3,082 [2]
Police and Crime Commissioner responsible
  • Alison Hernandez, (C)
Agency executive
Basic Command Units3

The geographical area covered is the largest for any police force in England, and the fourth largest in the United Kingdom. The total resident population of the force area is approximately 1.5 million, with around 11 million visitors annually.

The force was formed on 1 April 1967 by the amalgamation of the Devon and Exeter Police, Cornwall County Constabulary and Plymouth City Police, these three constabularies were an amalgamation of 23 city and borough police forces that were absorbed between 1856 and 1947.

Historical Policing in the Devon and Cornwall Police Area


Bodmin Borough Police 1836 to 1865: Three constables were appointed on 1 January 1836 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. They also acted as firemen. In 1865 a public inquiry was held on the matter of amalgamating Bodmin Borough Police with the Cornwall Constabulary. Although the proposal was unpopular, amalgamation took place on 21 October 1865.

Falmouth Borough Police 1836 to 1889: Six officers were appointed in 1836 comprising two serjeants-at-mace and three constables. In 1857, the force was led by an officer with the rank of superintendent with two constables in his charge. On 1 April 1889, the Falmouth Borough Police was amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary by virtue of section 35 of the Local Government Act 1888. The Act made it mandatory for all police forces covering a populace of less than 10,000 to merge with the county police.

Helston Borough Police 1851 to 1889: Although Helston was mandated to create an organised police force, it continued to appoint parish officers until the 1850s when the increase in population and crime rate demanded the appointment of a full-time head constable and a handful of part-time constables. A popular pastime among drunken miners in Helston was the attempted strangulation of Head Constable Bishop, who found himself being throttled on many occasions while attempting to make arrests. The force was amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary in 1889.

Launceston Borough Police 1846 to 1883: Edward Barrett, for many years the only constable in Launceston, garnered a menacing reputation thanks to the gratuitous use of his ‘black book’ and for the ravenous dog that accompanied him on his patrols. In 1883, the loss of a government grant to the Launceston authorities forced them to reconsider Barratt's position, and from that year the Borough of Launceston was policed by the Cornwall Constabulary.

Liskeard Borough Police 1853 to 1877: A police force for the cash-strapped Borough of Liskeard did not materialise until 1853 when they resolved to appoint Inspector Humphreys and Constable Spry as the first and only members of the Liskeard Borough Police. In 1877, after repeated condemnation of the force by the HMI, it was amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary.

Penryn Borough Police 1836 to 1889: The Penryn Borough Police rarely numbered more than two full-time constables, supported occasionally by special constables at times of disorder. Along with the Falmouth, Helston and St Ives constabularies, Penryn's lawmen amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary by Act of Parliament in 1889.

Penzance Borough Police 1836 to 1947: Formed on 1 January 1836 and consisting of three constables paid from the borough rate. The first chief constable carried the title of ‘Le Yeoman,’ an archaic term taken from Penzance's second charter of 1614. In 1852 the Great Western Railway arrived in Penzance, increasing tourism and the general population considerably. The increase in population brought with it an increase in crime and the Penzance force grew accordingly. During the First World War many constables resigned to join the colours and hundreds of ordinary citizens enrolled as special constables. During the Second World War a large war reserve constabulary was built and formed part of Penzance's civil defence response to air raids. It was a highly efficient and organised force which was ordered to merge with the Cornwall Constabulary on 1 April 1947.

St. Ives Borough Police 1836 to 1889: The St Ives authorities could only afford to appoint one constable and this remained the case for the force's 53-year history. A few years before the St Ives Borough Police amalgamated with the county police, the elderly head constable Mr Bennett had become frail and eccentric. Said to have spent much of his time sat on a stool watching the ships sail into St Ives Bay, Bennett's final and most inauspicious act was the transfer of a prisoner by train to Bodmin. During a stop, the head constable decided to get off and stretch his legs, an activity he became so preoccupied with that the train, and his prisoner, left without him.

Truro Borough Police 1836 to 1921: An ad hoc force for Truro existed between 1836 and 1838 when it was resolved to appoint a superintendent and constables proper. "I’ll have you under the clock!" was on oft uttered warning to miscreants by the borough constables – a reference to the police cells situated under the town hall clock on Boscawen Street. In 1877 Truro was granted city status and the police force was renamed accordingly to Truro City Police. The long and varied history of the Truro City Police concluded on 28 February 1921 when the constables were forcibly merged with the Cornwall Constabulary.

Cornwall County Constabulary 1856 to 1967: Esteemed members of the Cornish judiciary met at Bodmin in November 1856 to discuss the formation of the Cornwall Constabulary and decided on a force numbering 178 constables under Colonel Walter Raleigh Gilbert. The building of the force, conducted by Gilbert, two superintendents and a sergeant major, was a troubled process. Gilbert set almost impossibly high standards for recruits and many did not meet the requirements. By the summer of 1857, the force was only at half-strength, drawing criticism from the Bodmin Magistrates who ordered a more lenient approach. Gilbert revisited parishes across the county and found that many of those he had rejected had instead been snapped up by the local militia for much better pay, and it took until 1861 before the Cornwall Constabulary was at full strength.

Colonel Gilbert was a man of proud lineage – descended from an old Cornish family and directly related to Sir Humphrey Gilbert who was a half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh. Police forces of the era had a preference for drafting in experienced military men as chief constables; Britain was almost always at war in the 19th century and the installation of officers with military experience was desirable in the face of continued threat of invasion by Napoleon.

With the force headquartered in Bodmin, Gilbert placed heavy pressure on the Bodmin Borough Police to merge with the county, and on 22 October 1865 its three-man force finally succumbed to his whims. Further amalgamations occurred in the 1880s; Liskeard in 1877 and Launceston in 1883, both voluntarily until the harsh terms of the Local Government Act 1888 forced boroughs with a population of less than 10,000 to abolish their police forces, bringing an end to the Falmouth, Helston, Penryn and St Ives constabularies.

Gilbert died in office, aged 83; possibly the oldest ever police officer. One of his final acts was greeting the 2nd Berkshire Regiment in Penzance town when both the Cornwall Constabulary and Penzance Borough Police united with the military to quell a ‘fish riot’ that had endured for two whole days.

Throughout both world wars, many Cornish constables were injured or killed abroad or on home soil. The air raids of 1941 and 1942 left many casualties and when American troops arrived in Cornwall in preparation for the liberation of France, the Cornwall Constabulary found itself steeped in disorder caused by foreign troops.

The Cornwall Constabulary absorbed the Penzance and Isles of Scilly police forces on 1 April 1947, and the county police itself was amalgamated with the Devon and Plymouth constabularies on 1 June 1967, bringing an end to over a century of independent policing in the county of Cornwall.


Barnstaple Borough Police 1836 to 1921: The mischievous children of Barnstaple Town coined a doggerel about their three municipal policemen:

"Chanter’s got the measles, Purchase’s got the gout, Good morning Corporal Davey! Does your mother know you’re out?"

The verse, designed to annoy, referred to constables William Chanter, John Davey and William Purchase. The trio lasted until only 1838 when they were dismissed in favour of a better organised police force under Superintendent Charles Otway. The latter's career though was cruelly cut short when he was badly beaten by three men under the Barnstaple Bridge; his injuries were so severe he could no longer perform his duties. David Steele, only in his twenties when he was appointed chief constable, built a formidable Barnstaple force during his ten years in charge before departing in 1847 to become chief constable of Exeter. The Barnstaple Police Watch Committee had a preference for drafting in experienced constables from the Metropolitan Police – a much needed upper hand in the almost constant battle against drunkenness in the borough. Richard Eddy, appointed in 1893, was a popular chief constable who enjoyed the respect of the force and the public until his untimely death in 1905. His funeral was attended by hundreds. His son, Richard Eddy Jnr, took his place and saw the force through the First World War until amalgamation in 1921.

Bideford Borough Police 1836 to 1889: Early in Bideford's history, news of a food riot reached Parliament prompting the dispatch of a senior Bow Street Runner to Bideford to arrest the ringleader. After a three-month investigation, the ringleader and five accomplices were arrested and committed to Exeter Gaol. The municipal police were commissioned in the summer of 1836 after the Bideford authorities wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking for the services of an experienced Superintendent. Unfortunately for Elias Palmer, the successful candidate, the Bideford authorities could not afford to appoint any constables and for many years Palmer was the only law enforcer in the borough, although it could not be said he was inefficient. By 1844 Palmer had been so successful in stamping out the borough's nuisances that the authorities could no longer justify his salary, and reduced it by approximately half. Not being able to sustain himself, Palmer soon slipped into immorality and barely a year later absconded to the United States with £24 of the borough's money. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, the Bideford Borough Police's strength never exceeded five constables, including the superintendent, and in 1889 the force was merged with the Devon Constabulary.

Bradninch Borough Police 1836 to 1866: One of the many ‘unofficial’ constabularies to exist in the County of Devon, the Borough of Bradninch was not incorporated under the Act of 1835 and was therefore not mandated to create a police force. It was largely a one-man band, occasionally supported by special constables, and remained free from the interference of government for over twenty years. In 1857, the Devon Constabulary tried to take over the Bradninch Borough Police but was met with fierce resistance from the borough authorities. It took almost ten years before the chief constable could legally enforce his will upon Bradninch, and in 1866 was able to send Superintendent Swaine to assume control over the police station.

Dartmouth Borough Police 1836 to 1857: William Hearn was Dartmouth's only head constable for ten years until the Dartmouth authorities could afford to appoint a deputy by the name of Earle. During the 1847 General Election, Hearn was employed by Messrs Bridgeman and Prout, attorneys for the Liberal interest, to investigate citizens of the borough for trying to corrupt the vote. A campaigner for the Tory Party accosted Hearn in the street one evening and tried to force £500, a remarkable amount of money in that era, into Hearn's hand in exchange for the names of the alleged. Hearn refused, and shopped the man in to the Dartmouth Magistrates, severely damaging the reputation of the Tory Party.

Exeter City Police 1836 to 1966: The ancient City of Exeter had a muddled melange of law enforcers since time immemorial. At the turn of the 19th century, a system of serjeants-at-mace, staff-bearers, watchmen and parish and special constables was in place for the good of the people. The serjeants-at-mace ran the courts at the direction of the Magistrates, while the staff-bearers served summonses, attended to the Mayor and oversaw the running and care of the Guildhall. In the early 1830s, Government commissioners toured the country inspecting the many boroughs and in Exeter it was found that the system of night watchmen, established in 1810, was sufficient for the twilight hours; comprising one ‘Captain of the Watch,’ three inspectors and eight watchmen all paid by an Improvement Commission. During daylight hours though there was little in the way of an established and visible police presence and crime and anti-social behaviour was rife. An 1832 Act for paving, lighting and watching codified the responsibilities of the city's law enforcers and gave them powers of arrest for persons considered to be "felons, beggars, malefactors, vagrants, disturbers of the peace" or anyone "loitering in groups and not giving a satisfactory account of themselves." The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 superseded all that came before and on 1 January 1836, Captain Hugh Cumming was appointed superintendent of the new municipal police. The Exeter City Police had a long and varied history and over the course of 130 years remained free from the interference of the county police which was headquartered in what is now HMP Exeter – a few minutes’ walk from city HQ at Waterbeer Street. The force was known for its highly efficient conference point system – constables on patrol toured the city like clockwork using police telephone kiosks (later pillars) to report any occurrences since the last checkpoint. On 1 April 1966, following a public inquiry, the Exeter City Police was amalgamated with the Devon Constabulary, creating the new ‘Devon & Exeter Police.’ This arrangement was a mere stepping-stone to the events of June 1967, when the Devon & Exeter Police was amalgamated with Cornwall and Plymouth to form the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.

Honiton Borough Police 1848 to 1857: The Borough of Honiton received its first police force in 1848 and comprised half a dozen constables under Superintendent John Treby. It was a highly organised force led ably and with zeal by Mr Treby who earned himself a reputation as an excellent ‘thief-taker.’ Its success however was not to last. In November 1856, the Honiton authorities opted to have the services of the new Devon Constabulary at a cheaper rate than the municipals. As a direct result, all of the constables resigned (being ineligible to vote as police constables, they wanted to be sure they could vote against the motion.) In February 1857, the Honiton Borough Police was no more. Mr Treby, by then only in charge of himself, joined the Devon Constabulary and continued his pursuit of Honiton's ne’er-do-wells.

Okehampton Borough Police 1847 to 1860: Constables George James and Joseph Millman served Okehampton by informal arrangement from 1847-1860, although were poorly paid and permitted to take other employment. When the chief constable of Devon announced his intention to send the county police into Okehampton in 1857, the police committee rejected them. It was not until 1860 that the chief constable was able to send constables to Okehampton, after having to seek significant legal advice from the Exeter Magistrates.

South Molton Borough Police 1836 to 1878: Despite peaking at only two constables in 1844, the efficiency of the South Molton Borough Police was consistently praised by the HMI thanks to the indefatigable William Henry Fisher – the first and only superintendent. From 1857 the force worked in the shadow of the county police, stationed only streets away on Steppa Lane (modern day North Street) and following a review of the borough finances in 1878, merged with the Devon Constabulary. The Mayor of South Molton at the time, Mr John Cock, made it known in his many public appearances and books, that the abolition of the South Molton Borough Police was the worse decision in the borough's history.

Tavistock Borough Police 1837 to 1857: Although Tavistock was excluded from the municipal act, the wealthy Duke of Bedford insisted on having a system for enforcing the law. In 1837 the Duke contacted the London Metropolitan Police and requested the services of a superintendent to oversee a police force. Mark Merritt arrived in Tavistock and was appointed as the first, and only, chief constable of Tavistock and was stationed at the Guildhall on Bedford Square. The existing parish constables of Tavistock were placed under Merritt's supervision and were provided with better equipment and fees. By 1847 the force had outgrown its police station and the Duke authorised the construction of a new police and court building on the site of the ruined Tavistock Abbey. Despite resistance in other towns such as Bradninch and Okehampton, the Tavistock Borough Police was unable to challenge the authority of the Devon Constabulary and by the end of February 1857, Superintendent Merritt found himself redundant.

Tiverton Borough Police 1845 to 1942: The taxpayers of the borough were extremely unhappy at having to pay the police rate and preferred the services of their indefatigable ‘Captain Constable’ Mr William Beck who performed his duties for a pittance. It took many years to convince the public and the first Tivertonian constables stepped out onto East Street on 30 May 1845 – one superintendent and three constables. For 200 days in 1872, not a single prisoner was committed to the town gaol; a flag flew high above the building until the cycle was broken. In 1929, the existence of the force was threatened when Government commissioners arrived in Tiverton and attempted to convince the borough authorities to merge with the county police. Chief Constable Beynon fiercely defended the eleven-strong force in an extended session at the borough court; the commissioners eventually departed, and the continued service of the Tiverton Borough Police was assured for many years more. It was not until 1942, when the pressures of the Second World War took their toll on Devon, that the force finally amalgamated with the county. Chief Constable Morris of Devon visited the force on 28 November and provided them with new warrant cards, and welcomed them into the county police family.

Torquay District Police 1835 to 1857: Parishioners in Torquay voted to have their own police under the provisions of the Lighting & Watching Act 1833. On 3 August 1835, Charles Kilby (a poulterer) was appointed ‘Superintending Constable, Surveyor & Collector of Rates’ on a £90 per year salary. The two parish constables already serving for the year were placed under his supervision and paid 16 shillings a week for their trouble. Kilby referred to the constables as ‘privates’ and directed them like a militia, and in 1841 appointed four more to cover the parishes of Tormohun and Upton. On 1 May 1857, Kilby was ordered to step down to make way for the county police. He was distraught, having faithfully served Torquay for two decades, and was refused a position in the Devon Constabulary on age grounds.

Torrington Borough Police 1842 to 1870 & 1878 to 1889: The Torrington Borough Police holds the distinction of having existed twice. In May 1870, the force volunteered governance to the Devon Constabulary, but by 1878 the Corporation of Torrington was dissatisfied with the services of the county police and re-established the municipal force. This arrangement remained in place until 1889, when the harsh terms of the Local Government Act 1888 mandated amalgamation with the county.

Totnes Borough Police 1836 to 1884: Two constables were appointed in Totnes under the Municipal Act, although their activities in the early days are difficult to describe. John Bishop and his deputy, Mr Ellis, served infrequently in the borough. So infrequently in fact, that when the Government Inspector arrived in the summer of 1857 he could not find Bishop or Ellis and concluded there was no police force present save for the occasional duties performed by two elderly Serjeants-at-Mace. It could not be said though that the Totnes townsfolk were not fond of their policemen. When the borough authorities decided to adopt the services of the Devon Constabulary in 1884, a riot erupted and windows and property were damaged. Fictional Totnes policemen featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, the third Sherlock Holmes novel.

Devon County Constabulary 1856 to 1966: On 1 January 1857, Gerald de Courcy Hamilton emerged as leader of the new police force for the county of Devon and he immediately set about recruiting. Applicants for the force came overwhelmingly from serving members of the Bristol City Police; largely Devon-born men who wanted to be policemen but couldn't find employment in the smaller municipal borough constabularies across the county. By February, the strength of the Devon Constabulary was 127 men, consisting of Hamilton, four superintendents, two inspectors, twelve sergeants and one-hundred and eight constables. Training was administered in the courtyard at Exeter Castle, with classroom tuition provided at the Exeter Ragged School. New constables were trained in the use of swords and uniforms were provided by Messrs Hibberd & Son, army contractors in London. Headquarters, at least temporarily, was located at Hamilton's own house! This was an arrangement simply could not last, and at the 1858 meeting of the Police Committee, Hamilton complained that he could not continue to use his home as the base of operations, for the small office space he occupied was damaging his maps. Over time, the Devon Constabulary grew to absorb the smaller borough constabularies that had existed since 1836. Dartmouth, Honiton, Stonehouse and Torquay were absorbed in 1857, followed by Okehampton and Bradninch in 1860 and 1866 respectively. Torrington Borough Police volunteered itself for amalgamation in 1870, South Molton in 1878 and Totnes in 1884. The Local Government Act 1888 forcibly merged the Bideford Borough Police with the county, leaving only Barnstaple, Exeter and Tiverton independent by the turn of the 20th century. The Barnstaple Borough Police was absorbed in 1921 and Tiverton in 1942. On 1 April 1966, after a public inquiry, the Devon Constabulary and Exeter City Police were combined and became the ‘Devon & Exeter Police.’ It was the end of an era for both forces, and only a year later the arrangement was superseded by the most dramatic chapter in the history of West Country policing, when the Devon & Exeter Police, the Plymouth City Police and the Cornwall Constabulary were united under the banner of the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.

Devon & Exeter Police 1966 to 1967: The union of the Devon Constabulary with the Exeter City Police created the ‘Devon & Exeter Constabulary’ and brought an end to the independent policing of Exeter City. The merger though was a mere stepping stone towards the dramatic amalgamation of the Devon & Exeter Constabulary with the Cornwall and Plymouth constabularies on 1 June 1967.


Devonport Borough Police 1838 to 1914: Devonport become a municipal borough in 1837 and the following year appointed its first police force – 20 constables under the direction of a superintendent. For many years, force was considered the poor relation to the Plymouth Borough Police due to the low pay and substandard equipment. A rivalry developed between the two forces which took many years to subside. During the Royal Visit of Queen Victoria in 1843, much time was spent squabbling over which force – Plymouth or Devonport – would escort Her Majesty to the Dock Gate. In 1914, after a long-discussed plan to unite Plymouth's police forces, the Devonport Borough Police was amalgamated with the Plymouth Borough Police. The amalgamation was completed in the same year by the surrender of Stonehouse from the Devon Constabulary ‘H’ Division.

Plymouth Borough Police 1836 to 1967: From time immemorial, Plymothians were guarded by a system known as the ‘Watch & Ward.’ The watch kept vigil at the town gates and walls at night and handed over any miscreants to the parish constables in the morning. In the daytime members of the ward, consisting of the town's elected parish constables, took over patrols from the watch. Ordinary citizens were obliged to enact a Hue and Cry on discovery of a crime in progress and were permitted to carry weapons for the purpose of apprehending a criminal. On Michaelmas Day 1770, Plymouth's first Act for lighting and watching came into effect and saw the creation of a police force funded from the town rates, this being four shillings per year for every person living in Plymouth. The head of the force carried the rank of corporal, and from Lady Day to Michaelmas had eight constables in his charge on a wage of 8d per night. From Michaelmas to Lady Day, the force increased to eleven on 9d per night, while the Corporal received 12d per night for his trouble. One constable was stationed at the door of the Mayor's house, and another at the Guildhall, and was relieved every hour. The remainder of the force patrolled in groups of no less than three. On day time patrols the constables called out the time and weather. In 1836, the town's watch and ward constables were ‘promoted’ to ordinary constables although received little or no pay and were open to bribes. Barely nine months after the municipal Act came in force, the superintendent had resigned and the force was reconstituted, providing the constables with uniform, proper equipment and most importantly, a salary. From then on, over many decades, the Plymouth constabulary grew in size and discipline to a formidable force. The Plymouth Borough Police endured two world wars and during these dark times formed and led a significantly-sized civil defence initiative, which included the appointment of women into the special constabulary (1914) and fully attested women constables into the regulars from 1946. It was a large and proud force which was reluctant to merge with Devon and Cornwall in 1967 by order of the Home Secretary. On 1 June 1967, the Plymouth City Police (as it was named from 1927) passed into the history books, although its members continued to proudly wear the force crest on their uniform for many years.

Stonehouse District Police 1814 to 1857: The right for the district of Stonehouse to appoint a police force was exercised according to two local Acts of Parliament from 1805 and 1821. The basement of the Town Hall at Emma Place was converted to offices and cells and the force number six ‘watch constables’ under a superintendent. On 14 April 1852, the superintendent of Plymouth was placed temporarily in charge following the departure of the incumbent. An officer from the Bath City Police was later appointed as successor in May 1852. The force's proximity to the dockyards meant its constables often had to contend with the drunken antics of the town's naval ratings, and subsequently only the largest and strongest men were sworn in to the Stonehouse force. On 12 October 1857, Stonehouse was absorbed with the Devon Constabulary under the provisions of the County & Borough Police Act 1856. In 1914 however, Stonehouse was handed over to the Plymouth Borough Police.

Isles of Scilly

St. Mary's Parish Police 1835 to 1861: In 1835 a Magistrates Court was erected on St. Mary's to help curb the excesses of drinking and gambling on the isles. Unpaid special constables were enrolled at varying times but evidence of a consistent policing arrangement on the Scillies in this time is lacking.

Isles of Scilly Police 1861 to 1947: In 1861, the first paid and uniformed constable, Thomas Hicks, was appointed and stationed on St. Mary's. He was succeeded in 1865 by the illustriously named Horatio Nelson, a foul-mouthed and often drunk stonemason who served until 1872 when the Scillonian authorities had had enough of him. In 1889 the Local Government Act codified the responsibilities of the police on Scilly, bringing them in line with police on the mainland. A Police Committee was formed to provide oversight and more constables were sworn. Thus, the reputation of the police on Scilly improved. Information on the Scilly Police during the 1914-1918 War is conspicuously absent, and while it is known that the islands were an important maritime base (and receiver of survivors from torpedoed ships) the role of the Scillonian constables in ‘defending the realm’ is unknown. What is known is that during the war (and for a short few years after) the authorities on Scilly took the drastic step of withdrawing the liquor licenses from all of the Isles’ public houses. Such was the impact on crime rates that between February 1922 and February 1923, not a single offence had been brought before the courts. On 1 April 1947, the Isles of Scilly Police was forcibly merged with the Cornwall Constabulary.


Since 5 May 2016 the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner is Alison Hernandez.[3] The police and crime commissioner is scrutinised by the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel, made up of elected councillors from the local authorities in the police area.[4] Before November 2012 the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority was the police governance.[5]


The force is divided into three BCUs (Basic Command Units), each commanded by a Chief Superintendent. Each BCU is divided into large Geographic Areas, which are further sub-divided into Sectors, each with one or more police stations. This organisation is slightly different in Plymouth, which is divided directly into Sectors operating out of Plymouth's four police stations, and North and East Devon's Exeter Geographic Area, both of whose Sectors operate out of a single police station. Each Geographic Area is headed by a Superintendent and each Sector by an Inspector.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly BCU

Commander: Ch Supt Jim Pearce

East Cornwall Geographic Area

Mid-Cornwall Geographic Area

West Cornwall Geographic Area

Devon BCU

Commander: C/Supt. Sam D’Reya

South Hams and Teignbridge Geographic Area

Torbay Geographic Area

LPA Supt: Supt. Jacki Hawley

Exeter Geographic Area

Supt Sam De Reya

  • Exeter "Heavitree Road" Police Station

Mid and East Devon Geographic Area

Supt Sam De Reya

North and West Devon Geographic Area

Supt Toby Davies

Plymouth BCU

Commander: C/Supt. Dave Thorne

Plymouth Geographic Area

  • Plymouth Central Sector (Charles Cross Police Station)
  • Plymouth Devonport Sector (Devonport Police Office)
  • Plymouth East Sector (Plympton and Plymstock)
  • Plymouth North Sector (Crownhill Police Station)
  • Plymouth South Sector (Charles Cross Police Station)
  • Plymouth West Sector (Beacon Park Police Office)

Basic Command Unit structure

Each BCU has several specialist teams, namely:

  • Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPTs), each with local Beat Managers and PCSOs. The NPTs concentrate on preventing and detecting local crime and targeting offenders, building contacts in the local community, resolving problems by working with local organisations and individuals, and being visible and accessible. Devon and Cornwall has 193 NPTs
  • Traffic Units patrol the roads and target and pursue people committing traffic offences.
  • Criminal Investigation Departments (CID) detect serious crime
    • Forensic Services investigate crime scenes for forensic evidence that may correspond with many of the Home Office databases.
  • Pro-active Policing Units target persistent criminals and focus on specific operations.
  • Dog Units are officers who patrol with dogs and respond to incidents where a police dog is required.

Headquarters-based teams

To support the BCUs, several centralised teams operate from the headquarters:

Force Contact Centre

Devon & Cornwall Police's Force Contact Centre is located at both Police Headquarters in Middlemoor, Exeter and Crownhill Police Station in Plymouth, and both operate 24/7. Both rooms are considered "virtual" and calls from the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly, are answered at random at either of the two sites. The Force Contact Centres employ mostly civilian staff with sworn officers in both command and support roles. Both 999/112 and non-emergency calls are answered at the two sites, with civilian staff multi-skilled in both disciplines, as well other extraneous duties such as the Force Switchboard, found property recording, crime recording, "Bluelight" calls, requests from other UK and international police forces and emails from the public, partner agencies and the Devon & Cornwall Police website. The Force Switchboard serves to triage non-emergency calls from the public, to ensure that calls that require a priority response are transferred to an emergency operator, and calls that are not a police matter are referred to the correct agency, or advice given at the first point of contact. Calls that require a genuine non-emergency response are transferred to a multi-skilled Call Handler. The Force Switchboard can also be used to request to speak to individual officers or departments within the organisation. Prior to 2011 Devon & Cornwall Police was contactable on 08452 777444 before moving to the Single Non-Emergency Number (SNEN) 101. The conversion to 101 did not change any processes, policies, sites or staff for Devon & Cornwall Police. Radio Dispatch Officers are located at both sites and deploy police officers following calls for service from the Call Handlers.

Call Handlers are regularly faced with calls for service where a person is feeling suicidal and has called the police for help. Since 2014 the Force Contact Centre has been staffed by a mental health professional able to assist operators with dealing with calls for service for persons with mental health issues. This initiative has had a significant impact on the number of persons detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. Support is offered to Force Contact Centre staff who have dealt with distressing incidents. Like police officers, Force Contact Centre staff are bound by policy and legislation, but also are supported in using discretion and common sense in dealing with calls for service, taking into account the risk, harm, threat and vulnerability of a caller. Since early 2015, the Force Contact Centre has encouraged staff to undertake enhanced suicide intervention training, to act as both a single point of contact for a suicide caller (with the benefits of developing a rapport) and to serve as an intermediate stage between first contact call handlers and police negotiators.

Training for Force Contact Centre staff consists of eight weeks of mixed classroom and in-house tuition, the latter conducted with the assistance of a mentor, and a probationary period of 12 months. In early 2015 a two-year minimum tenure was imposed on recruits into the Force Contact Centre to discourage candidates from using it as a "foot in the door" to other areas of the police environment.


The Operations Department provides uniformed operational support to the force, and is responsible for traffic policing and tactical support.

Roads Policing Unit

Devon and Cornwall Police patrol 20 miles (32 km) of the M5 which has 6 junctions, as well as many other 'A' roads including the A30, A377, A38, A303, A386, A388, A39, A390, A391, A395, A394 and A376. The unit is split up into seven road policing sectors.

Motorcycle Policing Unit

Devon and Cornwall Police has officers that patrol on police motorcycles. Motorcycle officers are exempt from wearing body armour as they have to wear motorcycle leathers.

Force Support Group

The Force Support group were previously called the Tactical Aid Group (TAG) and Tactical Policing Team (TPT) and are predominantly responsible for public order, marine operations, searches and dealing with potentially violent offenders. It is divided into several sections, including two trained in firearms and one in marine operations.

Marine Support Unit

The Marine Support Unit, known as Force Support Group (FSG) D Section and based in Plymouth, is responsible for underwater search and marine operations. It consists of one sergeant and six constables, all trained divers, and operates a rigid-hulled inflatable boat capable of 45 knots.

Dog Section

Devon and Cornwall Police have officers that patrol the streets and attend incidents with police dogs. The force mainly use German Shepherds, but also have other types of dogs. The dogs are trained in a variety of roles including drugs dogs, explosives dogs and firearms support dogs. Devon and Cornwall Police are the first police force to train dogs to search for missing persons.

The unit, which is headed up by an Inspector, is based at headquarters in Middlemoor, in Exeter.

Armed Response Unit

Devon and Cornwall Police's Armed Response Unit is a 24/7 sub-department of the Operations department that responds to major and serious crimes where firearms are involved as well as this they partake in traffic duties. The unit responds to incidents with firearms and taser guns, and are the only officers in the force who are routinely armed.

Air Operations Unit

The Air Operations Unit is now part of the new National Police Air Service (NPAS), which at present is based at Exeter International Airport and operates a helicopter that provides support quickly and in remote and dangerous places. Devon and Cornwall Police were the first police force in the country to employ the use of a helicopter full-time when the unit was founded in 1979.

The unit used to use a single MBB/Kawasaki BK 117. DCP took delivery of a Eurocopter EC145 in April 2010, with its call sign being OSCAR 99, but it is now known as NPAS 44. The unit can scramble in two minutes and can reach most areas of the force within 15 minutes. With the advent of the NPAS in October 2012, the helicopter and associated assets move from D&C Police to NPAS, and the staff are currently on secondment to the NPAS. The helicopter has moved to Exeter International Airport, and the staff move to NPAS; thus D&C no longer have an independent air support unit, but use the NPAS to cover their resource needs.[6]

Force Crime Department

The Force Crime Department contains the central units of the force's Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which also has detectives attached to the larger police stations. It is headed by the Force Crime Manager, a Detective Chief Superintendent.

Major Crime Branch

The Major Crime Branch deals with serious crimes such as murder, kidnap, fraud and paedophilia and with crimes that cross boundaries between CID areas and require co-ordination. It contains three Detective Superintendents, all of whom are Senior Investigating Officers (SIOs).

  • The Major Incident Support Team (MIST) provides training and support for major incidents and operations both for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and the States of Jersey Police.
  • The four Major Crime Investigation Teams (MCITs) based at Newquay, Plymouth, South West Devon and Exeter investigate murders and other suspicious deaths and provide specialist investigative support to CID officers throughout the force.
  • The Economic Crime Section is divided into five separate units:
    • The Financial Investigation Unit mainly deals with the investigation of all confiscation cases under the Drug Trafficking Act 1994, Criminal Justice Act 2003 and Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. They deal with seizures of over £10,000 and investigate drug trafficking and money laundering offences.
    • The Fraud Squad deals with major fraud cases and allegations of corruption by public officials and bodies.
    • The Hi-Tech Crime Unit is responsible for the forensic examination of computer equipment to gather evidence for prosecution in a variety of cases.
    • The Paedophile Unit investigates allegations of child sexual abuse.
    • The Cheque and Credit Card Fraud Squad investigates the theft and misuse of cheques, credit cards and debit cards.

Covert Operations Unit

The Covert Operations Unit handles surveillance and major undercover operations. It is headed by a Detective Superintendent assisted by two Detective Chief Inspectors.

  • The Technical Support Unit provides expertise on video, audio, alarms, tracking and positioning systems.
  • The Covert Operations Support Unit co-ordinates force-wide covert operations and training and also handles witness protection.
  • The Force Surveillance Unit (FSU) has sections based in Plymouth and Exeter and provides the force's main covert surveillance capability throughout its area.

Intelligence Unit

The Intelligence Unit collects, collates and distributes intelligence and information of use to the force.

  • The Force Intelligence Centre is the main intelligence organ and is staffed by specialists in a variety of criminal areas.
  • The Force National Computer Bureau (FNCB) runs the force's contribution and access to the British Police National Computer (PNC) system.
  • Special Branch is in charge of counterterrorism and other national security matters.
  • The Crime Standards Unit reviews crime reports to ensure that the fullest possible response has been made, analyses crime reports, and processes and researches intelligence.

Performance and Co-Ordination Unit

The Performance and Co-ordination Unit is responsible for maintaining investigative standards throughout the force.

  • The Dedicated Source Unit deals with information sources in line with national regulations and standards.
  • The Victim Centred Crime Unit formulates and ensures best practice with regard to issues such as child protection, domestic violence, harassment, missing persons, vice and victim support.
  • The Control Strategy Crime Reduction Unit formulates and ensures best practice with regard to crime control and reduction.
  • The Covert Standards and Authorities Unit ensures force compliance with legislation allowing police forces to contravene the Human Rights Act.
  • The Policy and Performance Unit formulates policy for the whole Force Crime Department.

Scientific and Technical Services Unit

The Scientific and Technical Services Unit analyses forensic evidence gathered by scenes of crime officers based at police stations and provides other technical services to the force. The unit has its own forensic pathologist, the only police-employed pathologist in Britain.

  • The Central Submissions Unit handles the reception and supervision of all DNA samples and enters the details on the UK National DNA Database.
  • The Chemical and Optical Unit enhances and records fingerprints and palmprints on items recovered from crime scenes.
  • The Fingerprint Bureau analyses fingerprints and palmprints, feeds them into national databases and collates the results.
  • The Photographic Unit provides all the force's photographic needs.

Other departments

  • The Firearms Unit is responsible for all firearms training, planning and licensing.
  • The Contingency Planning Unit formulates long-term plans to deal with major incidents, including security for VIP visits, counterterrorist operations and reaction to terrorist attacks.
  • The Force Planning and Consultation Unit formulates policy and plans and monitors public opinion on policing matters.
  • The Professional Standards Unit is the Internal affairs branch and deals with force discipline and complaints against officers.



Devon and Cornwall Police officers wear the traditional custodian helmet in the ball style with a Brunswick star that reads 'Devon and Cornwall Police' for foot patrol, a peaked cap for when on mobile patrol in vehicles, and a white peaked cap for traffic officers. Female officers wear a bowler hat, or a white bowler hat for traffic officers. Devon and Cornwall are only 1 in 4 forces to use the ball style for custodian helmets.[7]


When on operational duty, officers wear black wicken layer tops with black uniform trousers and black fleece with police written on the chest and back. Devon and Cornwall Police do not have Brunswick stars on their epaulettes, just the rank and collar number. Formal dress comprises an open-necked tunic, with white shirt/blouse and tie. Constables and Sergeants wear custodian helmets and collar numbers on their epaulettes, all higher-ranked officers wear peaked caps, name badges and their rank on their epaulettes. The No.1 uniform is accompanied by black boots or shoes and occasionally black gloves, or brown gloves for the rank of Inspector and above.


Devon and Cornwall officers carry TETRA digital radios, PDAs, Hiatt rigid handcuffs, PAVA spray, the TCH 21" or Monadnock 26" collapsible baton, leg restraints, a resuscitation mask and a basic first aid kit. PCSO's do not carry batons, handcuffs, leg restraints or PAVA. Police vehicles contain a variety of equipment, which can include Arnold batons, traffic cones, road signs, breathalyzers, stingers, speed guns and more.


Devon and Cornwall Police use many different makes of vehicles from several different car manufacturers for the diverse categories of response vehicles required by the modern officer. Devon and Cornwall mainly use both the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra as patrol vehicles.[8]


Devon and Cornwall Police use the modern yellow and blue retro-reflective battenberg markings all over all operational vehicles, as well as the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary crest. Devon and Cornwall Police stopped using the 'jam sandwich' police car markings between 2000 and 2005 when battenberg markings came into favour.[8]


Between 1856 and 1947 police in Devon and Cornwall came under 26 different forces, all using different names. They were gradually absorbed into two of the existing forces called Devon and Exeter Constabulary and Cornwall County Constabulary, except Plymouth City Police which remained separate. In 1967 the three remaining forces were amalgamated into one called Devon & Cornwall Constabulary or Devon & Cornwall Police[9][10]

Chief Constables

Officers killed in the line of duty

The Police Roll of Honour Trust lists and commemorates all British police officers killed in the line of duty. The Police Memorial Trust since its establishment in 1984 has erected over 38 memorials to some of those officers.

Since 1814 the following officers of Devon & Cornwall Constabulary were killed while attempting to prevent or stop a crime in progress:[14]

  • Town Sergeant Joseph Burnett, 1814 (shot attempting to disarm two drunken soldiers)
  • Police Constable William Bennett, 1875 (injured arresting a man for assault)
  • Police Constable Walter Creech, 1883 (stabbed by a man he warned)
  • Police Constable John Tremlett Potter, 1938 (fatally injured by two burglars he disturbed)
  • Police Constable Dennis Arthur Smith, 1973 (shot by a suspect he was pursuing)
  • Police Constable Christopher Francis Wilson, 1977 (Contracted a fatal illness after being spat on during a disturbance at a football match)
  • Police Constable Joseph James Childs, 1978 (Drowned after his car was swept into the sea during a storm)
  • Police Constable Martin Ross Reid, 1978 (Drowned after his car was swept into the sea during a storm)


British Crime Survey

Devon and Cornwall are amongst the safest counties in the UK, with the 4th lowest crime rate per 1000 people in England. Recorded crime dropped by 12%, between June 2009 and July 2010. This was compared to an 8% drop in crime across England and Wales. Public perceptions of crime and confidence in the police was also better than the national average.[15]

There were drops in the rates of criminal damage (-19%), theft (-12%), robbery (11%), burglary (-13%), vehicle crime (-19%) and violence (-5%), however the only crimes that rose were sexual offences (+15%) and drug crimes (+6%), this was accounted for by an increased awareness campaign and more victimes coming forward for sexual offences, and more effective targeting of drug offences.[16][17]

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary graded Devon and Cornwall Police as 'fair' for confidence and satisfaction, and 'good' on local crime and policing and protection from serious harm.[18]

In detail they were graded as 'excellent' for reducing crime, suppressing gun crime and suppressing knife crime. They were rated 'low/medium' for all sections of 'value for money' including cost of policing, cost per household, number of officers and PCSO's and proportion of policing cost met from council tax.[18]

Strength and recruitment

Devon and Cornwall Police employs 6,067 people and 505 volunteers. Of which 3,529 are Police Officers, 354 Police Community Support Officers, 465 Special Constables and 2184 are civilian staff.[1]

Devon and Cornwall Police currently is not recruiting Constables, PCSOs, Special Constables, transferred officers, civilian staff or control room operators due to budget cuts. They are only hiring for roles that need to be filled.

Devon and Cornwall Police does have a Police Support Volunteer scheme.

Training for new recruits in Devon and Cornwall is held at the Headquarters in Middlemoor. For Constables it consists of eight months' training and a two-year probationary period. For PCSOs it consists of 18 weeks' training and a 15-weeks probationary period. For Special Constables it consists of 3 months of online learning and practical weekends training and a two-year probationary period or less, dependent on the number of tours of duty.

Recruits receive their warrant card and uniform in the first two months of training. Once the training period is over, the new officers are posted in a local division.

Budget cuts

Proposed merger

In 2006 the Home Office announced plans to reduce the number of police forces in the UK from 42 to 24 in an attempt to save money. The plans were abandoned later that year due to lack of funding for the mergers, however the idea has resurfaced many times.

The proposed idea would see Wiltshire Police merge with Gloucestershire Constabulary, Devon and Cornwall Police, Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Dorset Police to form a 'super police force'.

The plans have been publicly criticised by all the involved forces, stating that it would lead to poor quality service and a reduction in local policing.[19]

Other activities

Devon and Cornwall Police Pipes and Drum Band

The Devon and Cornwall Police Pipes and Drum Band is a band made up of pipe and drums players who play on behalf of the police force in aid of charity. The band plays at fundraising events for Devon Air Ambulance, Help for Heroes and other events, as well at police occasions such as officer graduations.

The band is made up of officers and employees of Devon and Cornwall Police, as well as some members who are not related to the police. The band is not funded or related to the police force but do have permission to use their name and uniform.[20]

Devon and Cornwall Police Rugby Football Club

The Devon and Cornwall RFC was formed in 1967 following the amalgamation of the Devon, Cornwall and Plymouth Constabularies clubs. A few midweek and Sunday games were played and players were encouraged to play for club sides on Saturdays. However the Saturday team was disbanded in May 1995 due to operational commitments. Today the force still manages to bring together a team when necessary, and play in the National Cup Competition every year.[21]

Social media

The force has been involved in a number of social media "blunders", including officers making inappropriate use of Facebook and Twitter, and a Twitter campaign image that had to be withdrawn when it was pointed out that it appeared to depict a police riot officer beating a person lying on the ground with a truncheon.[22]

Stella the Dog

Stella was a dog that was seized in 2014. The department then put the dog in a 3 ft by 9 ft cage in Devon until 2016 when a destruction order for Stella was passed by Torquay Magistrates' Court. The dog was reported to have no exercise and was left in the cage for 24 hours a day for nearly two years. The BBC report of Stella sparked outrage on social media around the world and is the topic of numerous crowd funding efforts to save Stella. The courts had until 8 March 2016 to appeal the euthanasia of Stella.[23]

  • Two fictional Devon & Cornwall police officers are present in the TV show Doc Martin.
  • In the second series of Ashes to Ashes, DCI Gene Hunt is nearly transferred to Devon & Cornwall in an attempt to stop his investigation.
  • The TV series Wycliffe is set in the fictional police force of South Western Constabulary, which in real life is the area covered by Devon and Cornwall Police.
  • Animated movie Quest for Camelot features a two-headed dragon, right head named Devon(voiced by Eric Idle) and left head named Cornwall(voiced by Don Rickles) as the movie's comic-relief characters that hate each other and want to be in separate bodies.

See also


  1. "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Devon & Cornwall | Home Office". Archived from the original on 3 January 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  2. "Tables for 'Police workforce, England and Wales, 31 March 2013". HM Government. Office for National Statistics. 31 March 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  3. "Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner".
  4. "Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel". Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  5. "Devon and Cornwall Police Authority". Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  6. "Devon & Cornwall Police take delivery of a new EC145 helicopter - News - Shephard". Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  7. "Night curfew on children brings anti-social behaviour down by 15 per cent". Daily Mail. London. 7 September 2008.
  8. "Axe Birding: Mayhem At Seaton Hole". Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  9. "Police name change | Devon and Cornwall police | constabulary dropped| Western Morning News | West Briton". Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  10. "Devon & Cornwall police force to change name | Bude People". Archived from the original on 4 September 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  11. "Devon & Cornwall Constabulary (1967 - 2003)". Devon & Cornwall Police. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  12. "Police chief quits after tenure dogged by controversy". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  13. "Chief Constable - Shaun Sawyer". Devon & Cornwall Police. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  14. "Police Roll of Honour Trust - Devon & Cornwall Constabulary". Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  15. "Devon & Cornwall police concern at confidence survey | This Is Exeter | Exeter Express and Echo". Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  16. "Devon and Cornwall Police recorded crime falls by 12%". BBC News. 21 October 2010.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. Constabulary, © Her Majesty's Inspectorate of; Fire. "HMICFRS". HMICFRS.
  19. "Concerns over police merger plans (From Salisbury Journal)". 19 February 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  20. "". Archived from the original on 16 May 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  21. "Home". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  22. "Devon and Cornwall Police withdraw 'brutality' image". BBC News. 27 February 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  23. Jones, Claire (29 February 2016). "Police caged death row dog for two years" via

Further reading

  • Campion, Roger (1997) The Call of Duty; police gallantry in Devon & Cornwall: decorations, orders, medals and commendations for gallantry and devotion to duty awarded to officers who have served in the police forces of Devon and Cornwall. Tiverton: Halsgrove in association with the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary ISBN 1-874448-36-1

Video clips

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