Archives for November 2015

What Paris means for the police

“The police protect us. We will protect the police.” With those words, the Chancellor announced the government’s decision to protect police funding.

I was surprised as anyone at this change of policy. So, what does it mean for us, for Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Ceredigion? And why the change?

Obviously, the announcement is welcome. Equally obviously, we should be wary of the small print. Funds available to police and crime commissioners are still likely to fall. But it’s better than it could have been.

It means we now have a little more headroom than we expected to make the changes we need. We will still have to spend wisely. We still have to reform. We still need to invest in better technology. We still need to keep a relentless, demanding focus on the frontline.

My view is that the decision to protect police funding reflects the government’s determination to protect the public. They saw the attacks in Paris. They see the threats at home. They recognise the shift in public attitude in recent weeks.

I think the government are right. The mood has shifted. People are deeply concerned about our safety, particularly and understandably about those threats that reach our shores from the turmoil abroad.

Those threats are a symptom of an ancient disease that has afflicted every society, race and creed since the dawn of time. It is totalitarianism: a world view devoid of love, that brokers no opposition, seeks to destroy difference and annihilates freedom. It is simply a poisonous ideological infection that spreads until confronted.

And we will have to confront it. Ultimately, we will have to confront it abroad. But we have to protect ourselves at home while we do so. That is where the police come in.

Protecting people – from petty crime to terrorism – starts with communities and local officers. That’s why I’ve been determined to protect them in Dyfed Powys, despite funding cuts. We have managed it, with 30 more on our streets since 2013 despite savings of £8.8m.

We have further to go to because we must recognise that Dyfed Powys contributions to national policing are likely to increase, not decrease. We continue to protect important ports and infrastructure in Pembrokeshire. We are likely to have more money kept from us for national police work.

We will still need to do more with less, because there is more to do and we will still have less.

Do not listen to counsels of despair, though. We can make a big difference – to crime and to terrorism. We can protect ourselves. Difficult times demand a plan and decisive local leadership. You will decide that leadership by public vote next May. You are in control.

Our strength starts in our communities and spreads from there. The stakes could not be higher.


Guns, bombs and Paris

As we take stock of the terrible events in Paris last week – and the emergency in Belgium – the implications are beginning to sink in. Some are arguing that we should arm the police, or at least increase the number of armed officers. I find this incredibly difficult.

On the one hand, we have to protect the public – that’s the job of government. In cases like Paris that means we will have to meet violence with violence. You cannot negotiate with someone who wants to die. In a Paris-style scenario, you have to kill them before they kill others, which is why the government is right to support a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. And, incidentally, why Jeremy Corbyn’s equivocation is not just whacky politics; it’s outright dangerous.

On the other hand, we have to protect the public. In the vast, vast majority of cases that means working with the public. Most of the work to keep us safe and dispense justice has nothing to do with guns or bombs or suicidal maniacs. Most of it involves catching crooks and putting them on trial. And all of it – petty crime and international terrorism – relies on good intelligence, which starts with strong links between police and public.

Terrorism is a tactic that is used by weak armies to fight the strong. It can be very effective but it emerges from weakness to exploit weakness: you cannot destroy your enemy’s army or their government or even their people, so you attack their confidence, their togetherness and their ideas.

You cannot beat terrorism, therefore, with bigger guns. You already have bigger guns. Their tactics will remain. You have to fight them at their own game: never letting them sleep, undermining their ability to move and talk to each other and dividing them from their supporters. Guns are important, sure, but intelligence is more important.

Much of my professional life has been involved in fighting terrorists. When I was in Basra, Iraq, many argued we needed more kit. But what we really needed was better relations with local Iraqis who could tell us where the terrorists were. I was constantly struck by how easy it was to get distracted by kit. The trouble with kit is that it is clumsy, prone to breaking down and almost never where you want it.

Now I am responsible for policing I see the same problem from a different angle. The solutions and the challenges are the same. Never forget the basics: it’s all about people. You have to work with them, keep the good ones on side and pursue the bad ones to the end.

The same is true in Paris, or Brussels or on the streets of Wales. You have to have good links between the police and local people so they can pick up the titbits of information that lead to a terrorist cell. You have to have good relations so that communities aren’t inclined to help the terrorists.

That is why I think we must remain true to our police traditions and keep only very specialist armed officers for very specialist roles. We need to keep the situation under close review to ensure we have the response we need. But our police should remained unarmed, part of our communities and on our side.

Our most precious asset is the relationship between police and public. We must preserve that, whatever else we do.


The Cost of Crime

Readers of the Carmarthen Journal will have seen the cost of crime recently. The paper’s new court pages review local court proceedings. They describe the crimes, the offenders and the victims. They show who pays the cost of crime.

A woman from the Teifi valley recently pleaded guilty to stealing money from someone’s bag on the bus to Lampeter. She will pay the price with a 12 month conditional discharge and £580 of fees and costs. The victim will pay the price with a loss of property and, no doubt, a feeling of being less safe. We will pay the cost of the court case and policing. The answer is, crime costs us all.

I had a similar reminder on one of my ‘Your Voice’ days, when I get out to meet the public and hear their concerns. I visited an retail store to discuss theft. The store belonged to an independent retailer. He built the business, bought the stock, employed the staff and took the risks.

Nothing about this shop suggested it would suffer from theft. It was in a low crime area – aren’t we all in Dyfed Powys? It was a substantial store, well staffed and equipped with CCTV.

Then the owner explained the business. He turned over a few million pounds worth of stock each year. He employed about 50 staff, on shifts to keep the business open at convenient times for customers. The shelves held thousands of product lines.

As became clear, the figures may be large but the margins are tiny. You survive in this line of work by making a little bit of money on a lot of products. That means small losses make a big difference. It also means picking up ‘petty’ theft is hard, like finding a £1 needle in a £100,000 haystack.

Last year they found a lot of needles. At the end of the year their stock was missing £25,000 worth of products. That is the cost of ‘petty’ crime for this business. It could employ another person with that money.

Each one of the crimes that make up the £25,000 could easily be dismissed as ‘minor’, but together they put this business – and all 50 people it employs – on a knife edge.

We all bear the cost of crime, which is why we must all play a part in tackling it.

We know 10% of crimes reported to the police here are registered against a business address. We know about 250 frauds are reported each month, with an average value of £300. But we don’t know much more.

That’s why I’m about to ask businesses, small and large, across Dyfed Powys about their experience of crime.

That’s why Dyfed Powys Police support shopwatch schemes and work so hard to investigate every crime, unlike other forces in the country.

That’s why I’m determined to prioritise frontline officers. We have more of them now, spending more time on our streets than when I was elected. I’ll be fighting to keep it that way in the PCC elections in May 2016.

Crime costs us all. It raises business costs, like insurance and security. It damages people’s confidence in public places, like buses. It drains taxpayers money away from other needs, like healthcare or schools.

Safe businesses are the bedrock of a safe society. Business crime has long been hidden. I hope we can bring it out of the shadows.