Cornwall

Andy Hocking: What made one Cornish copper so special?

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Media captionAndy Hocking's wife Sally pays tribute to a man who was committed to his community - and whom the community treated like a friend

When PC Andy Hocking died suddenly while off duty last month, extraordinary pictures emerged from the Cornish seaside town of Falmouth where more than 6,000 people lined the streets to pay their respects. What made this ordinary neighbourhood police officer so special and to so many people?

Local traders said there had been an "unprecedented outpouring of grief" from all corners of the community for the 52-year old, who had policed the area for 23 years.

"Back and forth through the streets he would go - people liked to see a presence in the street and they liked to see a familiar face - they treated him like a friend, and he treated them like friends," his wife Sally told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

In her first broadcast interview since his death, Mrs Hocking outlined how "he had the right ingredients for the job - he was very fair with people, he was very engaging, he was interested and he would always listen - but he was also an interesting character himself".

The legacy of PC Hocking's character is evident throughout the town. Pictures of him hang on the wall of his favourite pub, taxi-drivers talk fondly of him, artists have captured his winning smile in photographs and drawings.

Image caption Sally Hocking said her late husband treated people in the town "like a friend"

One distinct caricature appeared on his wife's doorstep shortly after his death and now hangs proudly in her dining room alongside the numerous awards and commendations he received over the course of his career. Everyone who stops to talk about PC Hocking nods along with certainty when asked the question: "Did you trust him?"

Nationally, high profile stories involving the police such as the Stephen Lawrence case, the Hillsborough disaster, and the "Plebgate" affair have all raised questions about police trust.

Surveys have consistently shown, however, that the majority of people do trust police officers and that levels of trust have not changed significantly over recent years.

Research published last year by Ipsos Mori found public trust levels in the police to be higher than they had been since 1983 - the year they first asked people if they would "generally trust the police to tell the truth". Sixty five per cent of people said yes. Recent You Gov and Comres polls paint similar pictures, with public trust in the police hovering at the mid-to-high 60 per cent mark.

The positive looking figures still demonstrate that there's a third or so of people who consistently say they do not trust the police.

In Falmouth at least, people say that individual officers like PC Hocking have the power to change negative perceptions of the police.

Image caption PC Matt Cummins was close friend and colleague of PC Hocking in Falmouth

"Half the battle is getting that connection with people," said former colleague and close friend PC Matt Cummins.

"Andy knew everybody, whether it was from his policing role, or through what he got up to before, and that proved massively helpful.

"If we had a meeting in the town centre then we couldn't get through town quickly because everybody would want to stop to talk to him."

The most up-to-date government figures show there are more than 120,000 police officers in England and Wales - many of whom will be working in sprawling urban hubs, with different policing priorities to those present in a small town like Falmouth, which has a population of about 26,000 people.

PC Cummings agrees that a local strategy of engagement may be more effective in smaller and more rural areas like his.

"Engagement is what we do here locally - that does not separate us from any other police force, but it does help working in a smaller area.

"Every police force has different obstacles to overcome… officers based in the city face a whole different set of challenges to us."

Image caption Some 6,000 people turned out to pay their respects to PC Andy Hocking

Part of the challenge for bigger forces is the scale of crime that needs to be dealt with. In January 2015, about 6,000 crimes were recorded in Falmouth & Truro. The figure was closer to 20,000, during the same time period, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, according to UK Crime stats.

That's not to say, according to PC Cummings, that bigger forces can't mirror the engagement strategy that was so embraced by PC Hocking.

"When I became a neighbourhood police officer 10 years ago I remember that engagement featured in my job description.

"I remember thinking at the time that was quite vague, but it all makes sense now. Andy's engagement is something we can all look up to and learn from because he touched so many people, so often, and from every facet of life. He worked with all the different services in the area."

It was PC Hocking's close relationship with his colleagues at the town council, which led to thousands turning out for his memorial march.

Richard Wilcox, from Falmouth Town Council, helped organise the event.

"We were expecting around 2,000 people to show up and walk the beat that he did," he said.

"In the end over 6,000 people took part. It didn't surprise any of us who worked with him. Even the tourists knew him."

Nor did it surprise any of those who turned out to pay their respects to him.

Jacqui Owen first got to know PC Hocking at the gates of her children's primary school.

"Andy was one of those people you always felt better for seeing, whether you were just going past him and giving him a wave, or stopping for a chat - he always left you going away with a smile on your face," she said.

"It's a real loss. It's still very hard to come into town because you expect to see him and now… you don't."