"Dover is a beautiful place, with beautiful people – and I will fight for this town."
These were the words of Sandra Mahlo at her Cannon Street café La Salle Verte. I had organised a meeting with high street business owners, local councillors and the police. We talked about how we must all work together to look after our town. And it was clear how passionate everyone is about getting the best for Dover.
The meeting was held following a spate of break-ins and burglaries earlier this year. These crimes caused serious concern among local firms. So our police force deserve real praise for swiftly catching the culprits.
Yet there were still worries about the level of police presence in the high street. I contacted our Dover District Commander, Chief Inspector Mark Weller, and he said patrols had been stepped up in Market Square, Cannon Street and Biggin Street.
I was delighted to hear from Sandra and the others at the meeting that they had noticed the boosted police presence in town. People must feel safe when shopping in our high street.
The issue of people consuming alcohol and taking drugs in the town centre was also raised. Ch Insp Weller said the force was cracking down on this through 'Operation Urban'. He also revealed shoplifting in the high street is down 17 per cent. His team play a vital role. They know their patch inside-out and work closely with business owners and support services.
It's the nature of their job that sometimes officers will be called to deal with someone who suffers from mental health problems. Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott has shown real leadership in this area. He's given funding to Talk It Out in Deal and to Dover Outreach Centre. They work with the police to get the most vulnerable people the help they need.
Both in Dover and Deal, the police and shopkeepers are clearly passionate about protecting our high street – and I am determined to help in any way I can. In Parliament, we recently secured more funding for Kent Police – up from £279.3 million to £288 million – which is going towards 200 more officers. We need to see lots of these new recruits deployed in Dover and Deal. I have made that case to Kent's Chief Constable, who told me he was "confident the increase will be felt tangibly by the residents of Dover district".
In Deal in particular, people tell me they want more opportunities to speak face-to-face with the police. So I've asked the Commissioner to consider doubling the number of hours residents have access to the local force.
We may be living in the age of the internet and social media. Yet for so many people, the heart of our community is the high street. Our local business owners and police force are a huge part of that. We must do everything we can to support them.
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