The Conservative candidate to be the next Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner is rare in that he is a former officer standing for the county’s most senior policing role, rather than a local councillor, and he is never shy in referring to his many years of experience when outlining what he believes are the best ways to tackle crime.
The answer? A two-pronged approach of “robust enforcement” and “early intervention,” he tells the Peterborough Telegraph.
Born and raised in London, Mr Preston started out with the Met Police as a 17-year-old, taking on a frontline policing role before moving onto armed protection which saw him guard Margaret Thatcher - “I can say she was a very polite and nice person,” he recalled.
A move to Cambridgeshire in 1998 for a better standard of living followed, which resulted in a fresh start with Cambridgeshire police that saw him begin with frontline and neighbourhood roles, before moving into detective work.
After leaving the force he joined the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners as a senior policy manager, working with the Home Office on areas including serious organised crime, violence, county lines drugs, forensics and armed policing - a far cry from his family life in Ely where he acts as a taxi for his two children and enjoys walking his dogs around the Fens.
“It will take a long time to gain an understand of policing if you have no knowledge of it,” Mr Preston said.
“Your main role is to hold the chief constable to account while delivering an efficient police service. So my view, having had policing experience, and experience at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, is a real advantage. I believe I can hit the ground running on day one.”
The first day would be in May, with the immediate focus turning to a particular area.
“There is one overriding priority, and I think this is the primary response of the police, and that’s cutting crime,” Mr Preston said.
“Clearly I know up and down the country that will be the priority as well, but I really feel passionate that is the key and main role of the police service in this country.
“What I also know from my experiencing in policing is much of this comes down to boots on the ground, extra police resources. So my pledge is we will bring many, many more police officers to Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
“Those police officers will be deployed in frontline and neighbourhood roles, but not forgetting that we need those detective and investigative posts as well to investigate those most serious of crimes.
“This isn’t just about extra police officers, because from what I also know from my experience is when you’re tackling all types of crime police can’t arrest their way out of these issues. And therefore prevention becomes really important as well.”
The extra police numbers would come from a government uplift of 20,000 officers, although this follows a decade where a similar number also left forces up and down the country.
Cambridgeshire police had 1,471 officers in 2010, a figure which hit a low of 1,346 in 2017 before bouncing back to hit 1,597 last September, although neighbourhood policing roles have diminished significantly during this time.
Asked about the cuts, Mr Preston replied: “I won’t hide behind the fact (Cambridgeshire Constabulary) have had to make significant savings, but they have managed to do pretty well.
“In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough we’re seeing far more police officers than we ever had.”
On the subject of prevention, there are “many aspects” to it Mr Preston said, from people taking care of their own property to “re-invigorating” community safety partnerships.
“What I did see in my experience of policing was, quite often, you would have burglary hotspots and it was down to a few individuals committing those crimes,” he continued.
“And what you would often find is those individuals have come from backgrounds that lended themselves to ending up in a life of crime.
“I will be looking to invest in proven projects that produce results in getting to - particularly our younger generation - and diverting them from a life of crime in the first place.”
He said that, as an example, football community projects can be “really, really impactful in diverting people from a life of crime”.
“I will be looking at working with not just the statutory agencies like the local authority and education and health, but also community partners,” he added.