Archives for April 2013

What the police can learn from Iraq

Bramshill, birthplace of the new College of Policing, has a very British feel. It combines grandeur, isolation and inconvenience in increasing proportions. Like our stately homes, Sandhurst, Parliament, and our Military, history and tradition rub uneasily with the demands of modernity.

Bramshill will soon be sold, but it will leave to the country an important creation. The College of Policing, which began its work this year, is a key part of modernising the police. I found myself there last week as one of the new Police and Crime Commissioners, contributing to a course for future leaders.

As the elected leaders of local forces, Commissioners also have responsibilities on national bodies. The College is the most exciting, and by some way the most popular amongst my colleagues.

The College faces myriad challenges. The police service has thirty years of change to catch up on, in a time of shrinking budgets. Crime is changing. Employment habits are changing. Society’s demands are changing. Police culture is emerging, slowly, from the grips of a 1970s permafrost. I found myself reflecting on the lessons from another modernity-challenged institution.

Ten years ago, as we remembered last week, the British Army invaded Iraq. Four years later, I was among four thousand British troops fighting a retreat from Basra. As young officers, we would escape at night to the roof of Basra Palace. Between mortar attacks you could watch the stars in relative peace and muse on the progress of the war. Or the lack of it. We had much to muse upon.

What can the College learn from their military cousins? Police and military are very different institutions but they share important characteristics. The police can learn the dangers of neglecting self-criticism. They can learn the importance history and the limits of professionalism.

Both police and military are conservative institutions. They are built on tradition. Like their buildings, over time they adapt the grand and stately to the modern and dynamic. Both are critical activities for the state and hence highly political. Both rely, as all government does, on the consent of people.

Let us deal with the shared traditions first. The Army has a proud tradition of counter-insurgency. We understand the importance of persuasion over force. We were reared on tales of Borneo, Malaya and the pacification of Northern Ireland. For four years British officers in Iraq pointed smugly to their past, while the Americans struggled in Baghdad.

The trouble is, while we remembered the history, we forgot the lessons. The Americans didn’t. They used our history and redesigned their army. By 2007 the tables had turned. No serious critique of the British military performance in Iraq emerged before 2008. Despite the finest, most professional, military education in the world we failed to learn fast enough.

At the heart of British policing is another proud tradition that springs from a similar philosophical well. We police by consent. Our police are citizens in uniform. The people are the police and the police are the people. What could be a more powerful notion in a modern, democratic age, than that sometimes dusty old principle?

The questions is whether the police really believe it. Re-invigorating this is a quest worthy of fine professional minds. In doing so, the College would do well to heed the military experience. Do not forget your history. To know what happened is not enough. You must understand the reasons and be prepared to relearn old lessons.

As for the state, it has no more important task than the protection of its citizens. Our army protects us from abroad, our police from within. Both bear the weight of government expectation. Both swim in political waters. The police, in many respects, face the harder task. They affect our lives more closely and are subject to far more scrutiny. They make their mistakes on our doorsteps.

One of the great errors of Iraq which resonates for the Police was to separate the political from the professional. Politicians in Britain delegated the war to professionals – generals – who promptly bleated about resources. Meanwhile soldiers in Iraq pursued military objectives, usually successfully, only to find that Basra politics had shifted around them. In neglecting politics we won the battles and lost the war.

Police officers show a similar disdain for politics. They should look to themselves before casting stones. There are few more political animals than senior police officers.

Police leaders must navigate local government and the politics of other professions. They need health, education and housing departments to help them reduce crime. Future police professionals will have to be experts at listening to social workers as well as collaring criminals. They will be politicians and public servants in the best sense of those words.

But most important of all in this work is consent. Without public support neither army nor police can succeed. The public have great faith in police officers. I am frequently reminded that they are more popular than politicians. I should hope they are. But that is not enough. The public had great pride in us in Iraq. I experienced it myself whenever I wore a uniform in public. But we were popular people in a troubled institution. Could anyone argue differently of the police today?

Consent and trust are tricky commodities. You only know you have lost them when you need them. The Army woke up to the loss of public support at home as it realised it was losing the war abroad. It had withdrawn from public view for a generation, partly as a result of Irish terrorism, only to find that it needed friends in a difficult hour. Recovery came as much from the public – from Royal Wooton Bassett and Help for Heroes – as from MoD press campaigns.

The Police Service finds itself in a similar situation. It has long taken public trust for granted. It cannot any longer. Police and Crime Commissioners are here to reconnect public with police but the police themselves have the greatest role.

Without the public the police will fail. All the officers at Bramshill I met recognise this. As in Iraq, there are no shortage of bright minds with the right ideas. The challenge is getting both to the surface.

The military has two lessons for the College. The first is to learn the importance of learning. The second is that professionalism is only part of the answer. The other part lies with the public.

The College must capture the traditions that make the profession. But the real challenge is how to involve the public in policing themselves. Convincing us all of our contribution to the law is as crucial to police success as any amount of professional skill.

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Who Guards the Guardians?

Police governance. Not the sexiest of topics, is it? Not that I imagine you find yourself on the website of a Police and Crime Commissioner because you are looking for something to set your pulse racing.

But it is an important one. We’ve been grappling with it since Plato posed similar questions in the fourth century BC. Part of my job as the first Commissioner in Dyfed Powys, in many ways the most important part of it, is to establish a way for people to hold their police to account. That is, to govern their police.

We have had elections. That’s the first part. Now we need a way for people to witness the decisions their public servants make and to make their voices heard. Good governance must last beyond one election. People must be able to see and understand what they are voting on. We need a settled decision-making structure with clear lines of responsibility overseeing the police and providing accountability to the public.

That is what I am proposing in this Discussion Paper.

These are the first thoughts about how decisions should be made. I want people to see how decisions are reached, not just what comes out at the end. These are vital considerations in an age where we have access to limitless information and where trust in institutions is shaky at best, as I wrote in my last post. Building trust and reputation requires unprecedented openness in the internet age.

These are draft thoughts and I welcome comments here or at [email protected]. We’ve still got lots to discuss and the system will evolve over time, but we must make a start.

And, for those still hoping for something to quicken their pulse, a quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (who guards the guardians) appears in Juvenal’s Satire in the first century AD. His concern? Enforcing morality on women when the men who guard them are so easily corrupted. There’s more sex here than you might have thought.

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Trust and Reputation

Not long ago, Radio 4 ran a short discussion on trust in British institutions. One of the observations was that, in the age of Twitter, defending reputations often means sharing criticism of them.

Just about every institution in Britain has suffered over the past few years. Scandals have battered once revered reputations from the BBC, to Parliament, banks, newspapers, hospitals, the police and government itself. The Army may just have escaped for now, but for how long? Only the a Monarchy seems to have survived unscathed, but even then after some torrid years in the 1990s.

Reputation matters. In the case of the police, the service’s reputation is a national asset. It’s what allows police officers and staff to do their jobs, because it’s a brand we can trust. That is particularly true in Dyfed Powys. If the success of policing is the absence of crime, Dyfed Powys are among the best.

As 2013 gets underway we have a lot to do. We need to build relationships between police and crime commissioners and the police they govern. Commissioners are the public’s voice to the police, so they are a key part of public trust in the police. We must make sure that they help add to the service’s reputation and, where necessary, repair it.

Enhancing a strong reputation is what I want to achieve here, in mid-Wales. To do that we need a discussion about what trust means and how reputation grows, which is where Radio 4 comes in.

The gist of the discussion was that, in the past people sought to protect reputations by defending them. People in institutions – the police, large companies, government – protected the public from difficult decisions on the basis that the public did not have the information to make decisions themselves. So, we all trusted institutions to make decisions for us.

In the Internet age, the public can access as much information as any institution and often more quickly. They don’t have to check it. They can react on rumour. Reputations matter more that ever in times like this, so that we know who to trust. But today, the trick for protecting a reputation is not traditional defence but guerrilla tactics. Organisations mustn’t build a fortresses to protect themselves. They must swim among the people, so to speak.

If we follow this reasoning, we need to do more than just share information. Reputation depends on the ability to be self-critical, light-hearted and human. It means sharing thinking, not just decisions.

That’s what we should try to capture as police governance evolves. We need a system that makes decision-making, not just decisions, accountable. We should start by trusting people. They are far more likely to be forgiving when we are honest about difficult judgements than when we hide them.

Defending a reputation in the age of the internet means letting someone sling a bit of mud and discovering it doesn’t hurt. I remember watching the Army insist on defending an increasing mess in Iraq against a sceptical media. Commanders convinced themselves that everything was fine. We believed our experience in Northern Ireland made us the best counter-insurgency force in the world. It took a very long time for reality to dawn.

Trust in our police is the very foundation of our society. We are, generally, starting from a good place. Officers rank high in public estimation – certainly higher than politicians. But trust is a funny thing. It can seep away without anyone noticing. Once you do notice, it’s too late.

We must keep ahead of public opinion to maintain trust. Over the next few months Commissioners and police chiefs across the country will have much to discuss. Building a relationship that shares thinking as well as decisions with the public will be the key to our reputation in the modern world.

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One Month In

One month in. Christmas and New Year have arrived just in time to pause and take stock. It’s been an intense few weeks and an extraordinary time in the evolution of British policing. It’s a great privilege to be part of these changes and I’m loving the job.

I’ve managed to finish Clive Emsley’s highly readable and entertaining book about policing: The Great British Bobby. He covers the story of police men and women through the ages. What strikes me about these histories is how much of what we think is new has been around for ages. Politics, money, corruption and change swirl about the story of policing like early morning mist about a constable’s feet. But the constable steps on, doing his – and increasingly her – duty, serving a community and facing the same wet feet, lonely nights and split second decisions that no amount of technology or reorganisation will ever change.

You get the same in histories of financial crises, politics or war. So much that was written about Wellington’s soldiers could have been written about their descendants in Iraq. So much of the financial catastrophe that has engulfed us since 2008 could be told through the experience of the railway boom or the South Sea Bubble. There’s very little that hasn’t been seen before, perhaps because human nature is more constant than we’d like to admit. Loyalty, honour, pride, courage and service are as eternal as jealousy, brutality, corruption and hate. Crime and punishment are part of that mix.

So we shouldn’t be surprised at the current scandals engulfing the police. They are as old as policing itself. So are the solutions. But equally we shouldn’t kid ourselves that these scandals can be ignored, nor about the effort required to overcome them. Just about every public institution in Britain has been shaken to its core in the last few years. The police are no different.

You hear a lot about rotten apples and barrels in situations like these. The cure for rotten apples is to open up the barrel so everyone can see which are good and which bad. That will be an uncomfortable process. Regaining trust requires the kind of public exposure that would make a nudist blush. Just ask a politician. Or a banker.

Has the message sunk in? I’m not sure. Too often the instinct to justify, to defend and to excuse the inexcusable kicks in. I know that temptation too. It must be resisted. It doesn’t matter that Dyfed Powys is a long way from the Met, or that ministers are unlikely to fall on the strength of a foul-mouthed strop in mid-Wales. The instincts are the same, wherever you are. Blaming journalists or politicians is pointless. Mistrust will spread until the barrel is opened.

One of Emsley’s interesting observations at the end of his book is about how people have lost a sense of ownership over their police. That might be said of just about any public service. The irony is that just as business goes networked and micro, local government and the police, who both emulate the language of business, are still fixated with ‘big’. But there’s a price to pay when you replace a local constable with a phone number and it rarely appears on a spreadsheet.

Why does ownership matter? It matters because the police lie at the very heart of the relationship between people and the state. Police have the power to take away our liberty. It doesn’t get more serious than that. All the more important, then, that their work has our consent.

Consent requires trust. And trust requires accountability. That is the very essence of our criminal justice system – we trust it because it belongs to us. That’s why juries try their peers and why the police have evolved under local, not central, control. Take ownership away and you have something imposed from outside, resented and eventually rejected.

It’s easy to get dewy-eyed about ‘policing by consent’. Not everyone consents all of the time, of course. Criminals for one are not usually first in line for more policing. But it’s not a bad place to start. It establishes a relationship based on trust rather than force. And, as it happens, evidence does suggest that how fairly criminals feel they are treated affects their chances of reoffending.

If you believe, as I do, that we have something precious in the unarmed constable, upholder of the Queen’s peace and answerable to her people’s government, then consent matters. If you don’t, spend a few weeks in Russia. Or Iraq. Or southern Italy. You’ll learn everything you need to know about corruption and the police. Heaven knows what happens in France.

All of which, thankfully, seems a long way from Dyfed Powys. One month in and not a hint of Russia, you’ll be relieved to know. But the serious point remains. That is that Team Police has not kept up with Team GB in 2012. They must do better and Dyfed Powys is part of that too.

Our age is almost mediaeval in its reliance on twittered rumour and public suspicion of established institutions. ‘Consent’ and ‘trust’ sound quaint but they are an ancient answer to a modern problem. Scandals in one place spread like wild fire to undermine confidence in others. People read about corruption and wonder, who can they trust?

The answer has to be ‘the police’. Those of us involved in policing must not duck the question. It’s a bigger ask than some seem to realise. One thing I’m sure of is that the answer lies in the great tradition that Emsley describes and it flows in the bloodstream of the Great British Bobby. We just have to rediscover it.

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Trust the Voters

Your hands are sweating. Your throat is dry. Cameras roll in the background. You have swung through more emotions in the last few minutes than you usually do in a year. You have worked for months for this moment. Somehow you have still had only seconds to prepare. Beside you a man is speaking in a formal, measured voice. You hear your name and step towards a microphone. Welcome to election day.

I always believe I could win the election for Police and Crime Commissioner in Dyfed Powys. Not that it made my nerves any less. I had nothing to go on but gut feeling, but I that was good. Had I read the media predictions I might have written my chances off. Luckily, I didn’t.

We have a lot to learn from the first PCC elections. First, I hope we all learn, and see, that PCCs provide a huge opportunity. They can bring fresh ideas, new people and new energy to our most important public services.

We can learn from the politics too. Like Ann Barnes, elected in Kent, I didn’t detect apathy on the streets. I detected frustration. People wanted to exercise their democratic right. They just didn’t feel they had the information, so they stayed at home.

Voters have an incredible knack of telling politicians what they want. They are always more sophisticated than political pundits credit. We must listen to them better.

Voters told us three things. They are fed up. They want independent people. And, they don’t like political re-treads.

Low turnout and spoilt ballots show the fed up part. Part of this was the lack of information, but the by elections in Manchester barely turned out more than Dyfed Powys at about 18%.

Some of this was due to the November date. Much was due to bad organisation, particularly for the PCC elections. I spoke to many who rang the government number to ask for printed election statements. The paperwork never arrived. Some was sent to the wrong address.

It’s not that the information couldn’t be found. It’s that people feel politicians are hiding from them if they don’t receive information directly. That breeds suspicion. Suspicion breeds resentment. Finally, a resentful electorate decides not to play. We cannot blame them.

Independents won in 12 police force areas. I do not see anything bad in this. Voters looked for particular skills for a particular political job. Party allegiance was not high on the list. One of the criticisms of these elections was that the Parties would dominate. They didn’t. That is a good thing – even though I represented one.

A BBC interviewer asked me whether this was a role for political re-treads. Actually, my greatest advantage was that I hadn’t held political office before. I’ve had a career outside of politics. And, just as importantly, my opponent had a long record of political mediocrity.

I didn’t know it at the time, but a similar story was playing out across the country. Voters rejected known politicians for new faces. In Humberside and Hampshire relative unknowns beat big names. In Surrey, West Mercia and North Wales, Independents took areas parties expected to win.

There are lessons here for everyone. Politicians must learn to talk to voters before voters turn on them. As Sam Chapman argues more fully here, Parties must wise up, reform their selection processes and be prepared to endorse Independents.

Most of all, we PCCs must establish our place as impartial, respected and influential in local politics. We have much to do to deliver safer neighbourhoods, but we must also explain our role properly in the coming years.

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Privatisation?

Here is the gist of an email doing the rounds:

Dear Sir,

Please will you let me know where you stand on the following subjects:

1. Privatisation of police sevices.

2. The use of security companies such as G4S.

3. Your connection with commercial security companies.

Yours faithfully,

Here is my answer:

Thank you for your email. I am against privatising core police services. Policing is a public service, paid for by the taxpayer for the benefit of all. I will keep it that way, if I am elected.

Sometimes outsourcing back office roles like administration, maintenance or IT can save money for the frontline. If it means more officers on the beat, I think that is a good thing and will look at it.

I do not have connections with companies who might be seeking contracts.

Kind regards,

Christopher Salmon

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Would You Enforce Cannabis Laws?

Below is an exchange from a constituent asking if I would enforce cannabis laws. This is a difficult subject. The short answer is yes. The longer one is that I do think we need to take another look at our drugs policy. But… that’s for Parliament.

Emails:

XX,

I see enforcing cannabis laws as important, along the lines they are currently enforced. A much higher priority for me in terms of resources and effort is tackling legal highs and hard drugs.

Chris

Christopher Salmon

Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Dyfed-Powys

www.christophersalmon.org

On 6 Nov 2012, at 10:55, XX wrote:

Dear Chris

Thanks for your prompt reply.

The fact that different people have different views is not a reason for not drawing the line at the right place though I understand you to say you think the line is currently in the right place.

Also that laws should not exist just to send messages; they should be both morally right and useful to and protective of individuals and society. The prohibition on the use of cannabis does more harm to individuals and society than does cannabis itself.

I understand of course that Parliament sets the laws and the police enforce it. However, the police have limited resources and cannot, and do not, tackle every crime. Moreover, the police and the CPS have a discretion as to which crimes they prosecute.

Therefor they have to prioritise. Expending police time on pursuing a victimless crime which causes very little harm to anyone whilst violence and robberies slip out of sight is quite wrong.

I regret you have not come anywhere near answering my question about priorities.

Thanks again

XX

From: Christopher Salmon

Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 10:12 AM

To: XX

Subject: Re: PCC election – Dyfed Powys

Dear XX,

Thanks for your email.

I don’t support liberalisation of the law on cannabis, although I am sympathetic to the argument. It seems to me that wherever you draw the line, there will always be people the other side of it, arguing it should be moved. So, on balance, I think the message the law sends is the right one.

In terms of policing, I will not as PCC decide which laws are enforced. Parliament sets the law and the police and courts enforce it. I will set priorities for the police and the budgets that go with them. I want the police continue to enforce the cannabis laws, as is their duty.

My biggest concern on drugs is the prevalence of ‘legal highs’ and the speed at which new drugs can be developed – faster than they can be classified. This is where I hope the new office of PCC can come up with more subtle and imaginative policy that prevents and deters use as well as punishing suppliers. The PCC will have the power to commission non-police services from charities, businesses and other agencies in pursuit of this.

Thank you for your interest. I would also point out that the purpose of these elections is so that people like you can express your views to someone and exercise you choice through a vote. That is not possible under the current system.

Best wishes,

Chris

Christopher Salmon

Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Dyfed-Powys

www.christophersalmon.org

On 6 Nov 2012, at 09:25, edward wrote:

Dear Christopher Salmon

Last year approximately £6 billion was spent in the UK black economy on cannabis. This market was uncontrolled, untaxed and profits went mainly to professional criminals.

At the same time, apparently, some £500 million was spent by the criminal justice system on attempting to enforce the prohibition on the use of cannabis.

To help me decide if I should vote at all in this election, (for which there is no public desire and no obvious benefit), I would be grateful, if you have time, if you would let me know if you think that the latter sum of money was well spent.

Also please,

what degree of priority would you give to the pursuit of cannabis users, growers and dealers,

do you think that the prohibition on the use of cannabis protects vulnerable individuals susceptible to addiction from the seriously harmful drugs or, because cannabis is so widely used, does it actually put them in touch with them, and

do you support cannabis law reform in principle?

Many thanks

XX

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Wildlife Crime

I’ve received several emails about my priorities on wildlife crime.

The first thing to say is that ‘wildlife crime’ covers a huge range of crime from badger baiting to illegal puppy farming and hunting.

I have grown up surrounded by animals on the farm. Our house was always full of pets, and sometimes even cold lambs warming in the bottom oven.

You learn a great deal about life, and death, when living close to nature. I gained a lifelong love of the countryside and its ways from my childhood. Animals and people are both part of the countryside we love. Both have shaped and continue to shape our landscape. We have a duty to treat animals well.

The second thing to say is that, under PCCs, the police will make decisions about how to police particular crimes. Parliament decides the law. The police enforce it and the courts judge it. Those are vital principles at the heart of our democracy. They must be upheld and will not change under PCCs.

PCCs will set police priorities, in place of cumbersome Police Authorities. They will decide how much money is spent on what.

My priority is to tackle those crimes that affect people. Where illegal activity relating to animals takes place, I will ensure the police have the resources and leadership to pursue it as they do now.

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard about the terrible damage done by crimes like domestic violence, intimidation, antisocial behaviour and drugs. We must make these our priority when faced with limited funds.

They will be the focus of my efforts. I want to ensure that our people are protected and feel safe in their homes, towns and villages.

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Clean Campaign Pledge

Dear Christine,

Over the next few weeks we will all be campaigning around Dyfed Powys, putting forward the policies and priorities we would pursue as Police and Crime Commissioner for our area.

I believe these elections are important, and the fact that you are standing means you must think so too. I am pleased that those who initially opposed PCCs have now come to see the benefits they can bring.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys will champion the effort to cut crime and make our communities safer places to live. He or she will be also strong voice for the victims of crime. Setting the policing budget and writing the local crime plan are very important jobs. Holding our police to account, on behalf of the public and with a democratic mandate from them, is a position of great trust and responsibility and one which I am sure each one of us would be honoured to fulfill.

It is vital that whoever is elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys does nothing to politicise our police force; if elected, I will be proud to take the Oath of Impartiality. But I want to go further than that. It is vital that this election campaign does nothing to damage the public’s perception of and faith in our police or the office of police and crime commissioner. That is why I have signed a Clean Campaign Pledge which sets out my commitment to fighting a clean, fair and honest campaign.

There is nothing in this pledge which any candidate, of any party or none, should object to signing up to. It would be a great thing for local people in Dyfed Powys to know that all their candidates had agreed to leave aside negativity and dirty tricks and put the best interests of local people first. It would also be in the finest traditions of British policing.

I urge you to sign up and put the people of Dyfed Powys first.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher.

The full text of the pledge is below:

•I, the undersigned, pledge in the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner election campaign:

•To be honest about police budgets, and not to scaremonger in ways that might frighten the most vulnerable members of our society, such as children and elderly people.

•Not to do anything to compromise the political impartiality of Dyfed Powys Police.

•To tell the truth about what I stand for and have achieved, and about what others stand for and have achieved.

•To refrain from personal attacks.

•To make only honest and reasonable promises.

•To fight a clean, positive and honest campaign around the issues of crime and policing that matter to the people of Dyfed Powys.

•I encourage voters:

•To expect from candidates decent and honest behaviour, inspired by the best traditions of British policing.

•To ask the candidates standing in this election whether they have signed up to the Pledge or not, and, if not, to encourage them to do so.

•To help us to enforce this Pledge, by reporting truthfully to us and to the media any apparent breaches of it.

Signed:

Signature Christopher Salmon

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Machynlleth

Last week was a difficult one for Dyfed Powys.

A dark and horrible thing happened in Machynlleth when April Jones disappeared from outside her mother’s house. Campaigning for election suddenly seemed of microscopic importance by comparison.

At the same time, though, it reminded me of why this election matters. Our police have done us proud over the last few days. Their handling of the media has been particularly impressive. I know from serving in Iraq how difficult balancing the demand for information with the need to concentrate on the real job is.

As one journalist once told me, “you have to feed the press beast or it will forage for itself.” That may be true, but it’s hard to manage when information is sketchy and rumour abounds. You have to get on with the real job whilst dealing with immense pressure for immediate news, answers and action.

We’ve been reminded how important policing is. Like many of our public services, it becomes so much a part of the background that we forget it’s there. Sadly, it seems to take bad events to show good people. April’s abduction, the London riots, acts terrorism or even war – we’d be better off without all of them, but when we face them we see the heroics of good people helping out.

It’s little consolation for the family, but let’s remember that we have seen the best of people in Wales, Machynlleth and our police over the last two weeks. If the time comes for me, it will be a privilege to serve them.

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