What have you ever done for me?

Usually people are too polite to put it that directly, but it’s always the question they want to ask.

They are right to. I’m paid a good salary from their taxes. I answer to them at the ballot box. I am responsible for a vital public service.

Last week provided two answers which, to me, capture the essence of the role: giving the public control. My first is local. The other is national.

A little over a year ago I raised my concerns about the police use of cautions in public. You can read how it was reported here.

When I arrived at Dyfed Powys, all I heard from senior staff was that we had the lowest crime and the highest detection rates in the country. I, being new, barely knew what that meant. I was sure that the public didn’t either.

What I knew was the many people had raised their concerns about how few cases made it to court. I knew from the figures that we were the highest users of cautions in the country. What I suspected was that officers were under pressure to get their ‘detection rates’ up.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to slap cautions on a bunch of relatively minor crimes, which usually means young people and often for possession of small amounts of cannabis (the one set of crime figures that officers were told should rise were drug crimes, because it supposedly meant the police were being more proactive).

Now, cannabis is illegal and possessing it a crime. I am not questioning that. But all law enforcement – all justice – is about balance and proportion. Creating crimes and criminal records for the young to meet bureaucratic targets is not justice, nor good law enforcement. So, I raised my concerns.

What followed were howls of outrage from parts of the police and grumbling about interference.

A year later I find myself looking at figures which show Dyfed Powys Police’s use of cautions has fallen 17%. More cases are going to court, where they are open to the public. Fewer are being dealt with in silence between officers and the accused.

We have a scrutiny panel which looks at how cautions are being used. As many as 60% of one early sample were ‘inappropriate’, i.e. the case should have gone to court. In the latest sample, 33% are. That’s still too many but it is a great improvement.

On Friday, as we discussed these figures in our Police Accountability Board, a statement was released in London.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is to be scrapped. Its President, Sir Hugh Orde, will step down shortly. I have written about ACPO before, so I won’t rehearse the arguments. You can read them here.

Make no mistake. PCCs finished ACPO.

We stopped its funding because it had grown like a creeper around the brickwork of British policing. Local forces, local decision making, local needs were smothered in unchallengeable bureaucratese. ‘ACPO guidance’ assumed the writ of a holy text. Challenging it was all but impossible.

The end of ACPO is a credit to the work of Jane Kennedy, Martyn Underhill and particularly Matthew Ellis who led the painstaking work. I am delighted that a new generation of Chief Constables have now decided what they would like to replace it. And I wish Sir Hugh a happy, much deserved retirement.

Police policy must be subject to democratic scrutiny. It must reflect the needs of the times and the needs of different areas. That will become the job of the College of Policing, which must work hard not to fall into the same trap.

What connects these answers?

The public connects them. By giving the public power over their police, PCCs have ensured that the system serves the public, not the other way round.

Cautions are not there for police convenience. They are there as a deterrent to minor offenders. The police do not work for ACPO. They work for their public.

Nothing frustrates the public more than politicians who talk and cannot deliver. That much should be clear, from Scotland, to UKIP, to Westminster and Europe. A very basic lesson lies at the heart of this: nothing, no matter how high-minded or well-intentioned, lasts without public consent.

People are demanding power and politicians who deliver. That means power must be exercised closer to people, through devolution. But it also requires power to shift from officials towards the public, though stronger local democracy.

PCCs are already delivering this for the police. I hope the next Parliament will deliver still wider reforms in the years to come.

Facebooktwittermail

“Give them rope” is no basis for government

I have never felt so uncomfortable about my country.

Apart from relief, I can not share in the general enthusiasm for the outcome of the Scottish referendum. I am delighted Scotland voted to stay with us. I am relieved so many voted, making the result undeniable. But I am horrified at the fractures it has opened up.

Scotland is divided. England has been provoked into defining her interests against – and not with – the other nations. Wales is abandoned. A house divided cannot prosper. And our house, the Union, is divided. Anyone who thinks we would be better without it is a fantasist. But those who would sustain it are consumed in securing their own interest.

English MPs are suddenly discovering devolution. Their enthusiasm might have something to do with the fact that they have never experienced it. “English votes for English laws” has a chilling ring for those outside. Similarly, Alex Salmond’s was a charlatan’s prospectus for an independent Scotland.

The Welsh Government now clings to Scottish coattails and calls for more power and more money. It shows rather less interest in taking responsibility for what it already has.

We are left with the consequences of a misguided devolution process which, to my shame, I supported at the time. Devolving power without responsibility, as Labour did to its client fiefdoms in Wales and Scotland, is a recipe for disaster. We now know where it leads: to separatism, division and nationalism.

Where do we go from here? Scotland will get more powers. That much we know. Reform of English local government is now inescapable. And Wales?

Wales wants more powers. Tax raising powers are on their way. They are likely to be joined by powers over energy and water. And Cardiff politicians long for control of the police and criminal justice.

The last concerns me most. It would do nothing to make Welsh communities safer. A large part of our population crosses the border every day. Splitting the criminal justice system between Cardiff and Bristol, or Wrexham and Chester adds needless cost and complication.

Policing is already devolved, in fact to a lower level than any currently Cardiff-controlled public service. Getting power out of Whitehall is fine. But centralising it in Cardiff gets us nowhere.

Because the actual experience of the Welsh Assembly has been, well, depressing. It has sucked power from below while swallowing money from above. And it has delivered very little for that.

Wales’ education was once famous in the UK; now it is more infamous. Terrifying failures in the Welsh NHS are met with a sheepish, sideways nod in private and North Korean style proclamations of success in public.

We ought to be able to talk about the failures of this Welsh Labour Government rather than the Assembly. But perhaps the greatest concern about devolution in Wales is that it has failed to deliver a single change of government.

Wales is, to all intents and purposes, a single party state. With that comes cronyism, incompetence, and a suffocating fog of consensus amongst the small circles that dominate Welsh administration.

These will not stay Welsh problems for long. Their implications, whether in the the NHS, education or elsewhere, will spill over into England.

For Labour, the Welsh Government is an embarrassment. For the Liberal Democrats, the situation is Wales is a rebuke to their blind faith in complicated voting systems.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party faces an almost irresistible temptation to give them power and let them hang. It will probably work but at what price?

Until we have seen any kind of change in government, an acceptance of financial responsibility, or some ability to deliver administrative reform, we cannot responsibly give Cardiff more.

Weak oversight has damaged the police enormously over the last 30 years. Until the Welsh administration demonstrates some ability to grapple with failing areas we cannot begin to contemplate Cardiff control of the police, still less the criminal justice system.

Local government is ripe for reform across the UK, including in Wales. The consequences of the Scottish referendum make change unavoidable. That is a good thing, if we handle it carefully.

Our aim must be to strengthen the Union. It is not broken, just neglected. Like all living things, it needs sustaining. We should strengthen political ties and pass power to people, not encourage new institutions to seek spurious grounds for ‘difference’ as the last round of devolution did.

When reform of local government in England begins in earnest – I hope with more mayors for our cities, directly elected council leaders, greater taxation powers and an end to ridiculous capping arrangements – perhaps Welsh local authorities should benefit from the same?

Scotland has proved, once again, how fundamental she is to the United Kingdom, and how capable of shaping its future. Wales is no less vital, and in many ways more deeply woven into the fabric of our national life.

We cannot progress by defining only our own interests – England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. What I learnt from this referendum is that I never want to be asked which are mine. They all are.

It may be tempting to for Conservative colleagues to hand powers to the Welsh Government and watch Labour flounder, as it certainly will. They should resist.

‘Give them rope’ might work but it is no basis for stable constitutional change.

Facebooktwittermail

For Whom the Polls Toll

Can there be anything more heart-rending than watching your country dismember itself? Not long ago I was risking my life alongside soldiers from across these islands. I served a government I did not like, in an army that frequently blundered. I did it to protect the institutions that had protected me. I still do. We served and we saw the chaos of human affairs and thanked God for the stability we enjoyed.

Now I sit with my heart in my mouth and a deep well of despair in my stomach, unable to do a thing about the wrenching apart of those notions that have bound us and for which many – Scots, Welsh, Irish, English, Nepalese, South African, Fijian, Australian – have been prepared to die. For what?

Nothing good can come of this. Civil strife is the most destructive of all conflicts. Even when expressed through the ballot box rather than the barrel of a gun, it means division and anguish. Its legacy will linger. It means people who used to share a pint no longer speaking. It means families divided, friendships fractured, a question to be avoided, a topic that can’t be discussed. Like a stone in the shoe it will nag away until we throw off the shoe in a fit of anger.

Nationalism is poison. It makes no difference whether it is the ethno-trendiness of Welsh and Scottish nationalism, the violence of Irish nationalism or the swaggering brutishness of English nationalism. It divides us. When it takes root in a state it means the silent and subtle ejection of people who don’t fit in. Nothing aggressive needs to happen. People simply feel uncomfortable. They leave government posts, schools, civic posts, public conversation. An orthodoxy emerges. Now it is in the bloodstream of our nations it will be with us for a long time.

Worthy platitudes from journalists about how ‘engaged’ the debate is, how exciting ‘grass-roots’ politics are betray the mind boggling idiocy of a class so comfortably cocooned in their international metropolis. That naivety has led us to this. The debate is ‘engaged’ and ‘grass-roots’ because it matters a lot to a lot of people. And because it matters it will leave deep scars. This is not some interesting conundrum for a political science lecture. It is about real people and the essence of who we are.

We have made a terrible mistake in confusing British patriotism with nationalism, and making such a deliberate effort to reject it. Britain could never be nationalist because it consisted of many nations. Each kept the other sane. Patriotism was pride in the country we built together and the institutions we share. Nationalism is something very different, as those worthy progressives so seduced by its rebelliousness are about to find out.

With each passing day, each poll, we become a little more parochial, our horizons narrow, our world shrinks. Stuff them, we say, we’ll look after ourselves.

No man is an island, entire of itself. Nor is a country. We are all a part of something; we should fight for it. We are all diminished when it splits. Ask not for whom the polls toll: they toll for thee.

Facebooktwittermail

More Forces. Fewer Ranks.

Irene Curtis of the Superintendents’ Association is wrong to claim we need bigger police forces. Inevitably the argument is built upon the pressure of cuts. Cuts mean less money. Less money means we need bigger forces, with fewer chief constables.

It’s superficially appealing but it’s wrong. It also ignores the important constitutional reasons for why we have local, independent forces. We have them so that no one force can get too powerful. Local forces are an important check on the most intrusive power of the state. They give the individual at least some hope of challenging official authority. The bigger they are the harder that becomes.

In a string of police scandals – Rotherham, undercover operations, fiddled crime figures – we have heard senior officers claim that they ‘did not know’ what is going on in their forces. That is a product of weak governance, not small forces.

The former Chief Constable of South Yorkshire pleaded ignorance on the Today programme recently, in response to the Rotherham scandal. He claimed that he did not know how his force had been investigating – or not – the rapes, kidnapping and trafficking of girls in his area. He hadn’t seen letters addressed to him.

Other senior officers claimed to the Home Affairs Select Committee that they did not know crime figures were being fiddled by the organisations they lead.

Well, then, they failed. Full stop. It is the job of senior leadership in any organisation to know what is going on. That is what they are paid for. And if things go wrong on their watch, they are paid to take responsibility.

Either they failed because they aren’t very good at their jobs, or they failed because the organisations they lead prevent them from doing their jobs. I suspect it is more the latter.

Forces are too big with too many ranks. As a result senior officers are too remote from the front line. It is never easy to keep abreast of a large organisation but it becomes a lot harder the bigger the organisation.

The police are highly deferential to rank – more so, in my experience than the military. And there are a lot of ranks. Police officers are, rightly, ‘can do’ and eager to please. The result is a lot of people looking upwards, eager to present the best take on things. A conspiracy of optimism pervades the police hierarchy, getting more intense the higher it goes. Sub cultures develop that are never challenged. The bigger the organisation, the bigger the problem.

And the money? Better management and tighter governance will do more for savings than bigger bureaucracies. Cutting the number of ranks – there’s no need for three ranks of chief constable, for a start – would save more with far less disruption than force mergers. Other ranks could go too. Perhaps, even, among superintendents?

We need more, not fewer, police forces. Their leadership – PCCs included – should be paid less and their ranks reduced.

Bringing decisions closer to the front line would deliver bigger savings than reorganisations. More importantly it will protect the liberties the police are there to uphold.

 

 

Facebooktwittermail

The Empire Strikes Back

As in physics, so in politics. Every force in one direction meets opposing forces in the other. Reform produces counter reform. Progress depends simply on which is the more powerful.

This government has been extraordinarily reforming. It has taken on major vested interests across the public sector, whilst handling a coalition and the worst economic inheritance since WWII. Prime among those vested interests have been the police and the web of vocal lobbyists that surround them, from the Federation and ACPO to retired old sweats and local government insiders.

Their reaction, simmering for years, has finally found its form. Interestingly, that form has not come from the police. They, perhaps to their surprise, may have found something in the clarity that Police and Crime Commissioners bring. They may even be feeling a breath of wind beneath their wings, freed from the suffocating bureaucracy of committee-based decision making. They have wisely stayed out of this debate.

Instead, the reaction takes the form of resurgent local government interests. They have long resented inconvenient strangers, like directly elected PCCs (or mayors, for that matter), amidst their comfortable fiefdoms.

The Liberal Democrats – the party of local government interests, if a party at all – wants to replace PCCs with Police Boards. Labour, no less comfortable with direct accountability, has intimated the same.

How ironic that the scandal which finally outed this reaction – the outrageous failures in Rotherham – should prompt calls for a return to precisely the kind of oversight which produced those failures.

It was the leaderless and incompetent committees and ‘safeguarding’ boards of Rotherham Council which failed to challenge officials who were not doing their job. No one took responsibility in the miasma of ‘task and finish sub-groups’ and multi-agency gobbledegook that passed for accountability. How, precisely, would a police committee improve things?

For all its problems – and undoubtedly there are improvements to be made to PCCs – it is the unambiguous accountability of direct election which has left Shaun Wright with nowhere to hide. It has guaranteed a reckoning for someone with responsibility in that terrible scandal, albeit 18 months later than many would like. But an end there is; he will not stand again, and if he did his voters can pass their judgement.

What are the chances of such clarity in a council committee? How many councillors lose their jobs when things go wrong? Without direct accountability we have a system where people who fail get recycled on the merry-go-round of council preferment.

Questions about accountability between elections are not unique to PCCs. They apply to all democratic posts – MPs, councillors, AMs and MSPs alike. They are the problems of democracy. I do not accept that PCCs are different because they are powerful. That is the point of PCCs.

They are powerful because the system is powerful. They are powerful in order to be accountable. And they have to be accountable in order to be powerful. Diffusing that accountability into a committee takes us back to where we started. The system wins. The public lose.

By all means strengthen the public voice, but give people someone to sack when it goes wrong. And give that person the power to stop things going wrong. But steer clear of the cosy committees.

Anything else is reaction. The system is fighting back. The forces for reform must be bolstered once more.

Facebooktwittermail

Local Justice

Below are some thoughts on what we can do to improve local justice.

Over the last 18 months, Police and Crime Commissioners have been largely absorbed in the policing aspects of their role. They have a wider remit, however. Parliament granted them responsibilities for community safety, crime reduction and ‘for the enhancement of the delivery of criminal justice in their area.’

That is where many of the greatest opportunities for better justice lie. It is where I would like to focus in the coming years.

We must reduce burdens on not only the police but other criminal justice bodies. Most importantly of all, we must improve justice for the public. That’s what I want to do across the tricky territory of Powys, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthen

Why local justice?

We need to achieve for local justice what we have achieved in local policing over the last five years.

The police have put great effort into tackling low level crime, connecting with communities, visibility and prevention. The result is a public that, broadly, knows its police force and police who know their public. That’s at the heart of local policing.

Local justice has felt the opposite. Shrinking budgets have pulled courts, prosecution and probation services further from local areas.

Courts and magistrates are not well known, or even recognisable, in local areas. That is understandable, but it is not inevitable. Rather than redesigning services for difficult times, we have simply seen them shrink.

Rural areas feel this particularly, since services are already so thinly spread. And rural areas are what Dyfed Powys is all about.

Nobody can afford to keep police stations or courts in every village. Crime is falling. More cases are likely to be settled out of court in future. This will require better scrutiny of what happens away from courts, and more effective sentences within them.

Justice of any sort relies on public confidence. That means it must be seen to be done, it must be swift and it must be fair.

Outside Court

Nothing undermines public confidence more than the suspicion of a stitch up. Out of court disposals – cautions, warnings, even restorative interventions – are a vital tool to tackle petty crime and bad behaviour. But they have a crucial weakness. They can easily be seen as a slap on the wrist, weak or ridiculous. That is in large part because they are administered away from the public eye, usually between an officer and an offender.

We need strong local oversight of justice outside court. Its purpose must be to give the public confidence in decisions made on their behalf. It must also ensure robust accountability to change offenders’ behaviour.

In Dyfed Powys we have established an Out of Court Disposal Scrutiny Panel, to review the use of cautions by officers. We are consulting on the Community Remedy, which will give victims a say in the punishment of offenders. It gives the police a quick punishment, without tainting the offender with a criminal record – the modern equivalent of a clip round the ear.

We are using government funding to explore restorative justice for rural areas. These might involve local justice panels. They might involve meetings between offenders and victims, if the victims want that. They will certainly involve more volunteers because they must be rooted in, and belong to, the people who best understand their own communities.

These must have public confidence. It must have oversight to ensure it is transparent. I hope magistrates can play a greater part here, in an individual if not judicial capacity. They have the experience, the interest and the local knowledge that few others do.

Inside Court

Nothing deters a victim from reporting a crime more than the fear of reliving it. Court processes can grind out a victim’s experience over years. We have transparency but we rarely have speed. Courts and prosecutors must make their own pace in deliberating the evidence but those around them must make their lives easier.

We can, and must, make case files and administration more efficient. We should take a cold, fresh, look and what processes are need and what are not. We must take in the full journey of a case, from reporting to conviction. Digital files in an analogue system are little help to anyone.

Video links between police stations, cells and small, outlying court facilities can help recreate local justice where we cannot afford to rebuild local buildings. They can reduce the time spent by officers travelling to apply for a warrant, or escorting a prisoner for a bail hearing. Courts could be held in multiple use buildings or civic halls.

We have to ensure that courts retain – even enhance – their gravitas and authority. They ought to have a stronger role in monitoring the offenders they sentence. That has implications for how we build our video links, the design of police cells or our town halls.

These ideas are not new. We have made tentative progress on some aspects in Dyfed Powys, but not enough.

Police and Crime Commissioners have unique flexibility to support innovation in local justice. I hope that with our Local Criminal Justice Board, we can act as the body to coordinate the change.

Victims’ Experience

Finally, running through the criminal justice system, from crime to conviction and beyond, is the experience of a person.

Victims of crime experience a very different criminal justice system from those who work in it. Often it is cold, confusing, cumbersome and impersonal. Often it ignores the experience of those who are there through no choice of their own, namely victims.

Justice must always be impartial. It must not create more victims, or miscarriages of justice, by favouring sides before a court has reached its verdict. But it must be much more sensitive to the impact of crime on those who suffer it. Courts must understand the difficulties in giving evidence and hence the impact of their own processes on the outcome of cases.

From April 2015, my office will commission victim services for all but the most serious cases. We will receive funding from the Ministry of Justice and will be responsible for complying with the Victims’ Code. We need a system with a single point of contact that is better able to update a victim throughout their experience. We need consistent support through court and beyond.

That means we need to understand the system we are using. We are changing our OPCC performance work to look across the justice system.  I want to share that analysis with partners. I hope we will be able to add data from other organisations and to share our facilities back with them.

What next?

The Local Criminal Justice Board offers a platform for much of this activity. These are my ideas, to start the ball rolling. Other’s will have more.

We need first to prioritise our efforts, focussing on the quickest wins. Some changes are administrative, such as those to improve processes. Some are changes to local justice, such as the introduction of restorative practices, the community remedy and our approach to cautions.

I have no doubt that, with imagination, we can use the challenge of our straightened times to come up with new ideas to meet the needs of our rural communities.

Facebooktwittermail

More with Less

You can do more with less. Figures showing a 2% fall in police officer numbers across the country last year will no doubt prompt warnings of a crime explosion. An 8% fall in PCSO numbers will be used to proclaim the death of neighbourhood policing. Both are simplistic and wrong.

First, those suggestions don’t fit well with the crime figures. Crime is falling even as officer numbers fall. That means that those officers who remain are becoming more effective. It might be that IT is helping them do more. It might be less paperwork tying them to their desks. It might be that changes in technology and society are helping to reduce crime anyway. It’s probably a bit of each and more. But the link between officer numbers and crime is a political myth.

Secondly, changes in the relative costs of constables and PCSOs are bound to lead to a different mix. A new PC now costs less than a new PCSO to employ (though their whole-life costs are higher). PCSOs also have much more flexible employment terms and can be made redundant, unlike PCs. That means PCSOs have borne the brunt of any savings programmes. It shouldn’t be too surprising that forces are shifting, relatively, towards PCs.

PCSOs have been an enormous success but let’s not forget they were introduced by the last Labour Government largely to side step an obstructive Police Federation and its refusal to reform officers’ terms. PCSOs took up much of the vital local work that officers became too expensive, and sometimes too haughty, to do.

Thankfully, those days are fading – though the financial challenges aren’t. The logical thing would be to make officers’ terms more flexible but we seem some way from that. The other logical thing would be to reduce the number of ranks and focus back on core policing, preventing and detecting crime. Do less so you can do it better. That is the essence of professionalism.

A reduction in PCSOs does not need to mean lees crime prevention, unless the PCC and Chief Constable want it to. Prevention is – or ought to be – the responsibility of constables as much as anyone else. Provided PCCs and chiefs are prioritising the value of prevention, the work will continue. And, if they aren’t, their public will have something to say.

In Dyfed Powys, we have increased our officer numbers by 30, maintained PCSOs and reduced operating costs by £3.47m (out of a budget of £98m) this year. There’s more we can do with IT. There’s more we can do with the public to support crime prevention.

If there’s anything I have learnt in the last 18 months, it’s that budget cuts don’t necessarily mean fewer frontline officers. And they certainly don’t need to mean less neighbourhood policing.

Facebooktwittermail

Recorded crime isn’t falling. Good.

Here’s some good news. Recorded crime isn’t falling.

Why good? It’s good because crime survey data (which can’t be fiddled) shows that crime is falling, by 14% to the year ending March 2014. If the crime people say they experience is falling but the crimes recorded by police aren’t, that means that the difference between what people experience and what they report to the police is falling.

That means the police have a better idea of crime in their area, which in turns means they can deal with it. It’s why I, and others, have said we are prepared for recorded crime figures to rise, if that gives a better reflection of reality.

Even better is for surveyed crime to fall and recorded crime to stay flat, which it is.

Good news for honest statistics. Good news for honest people.

Facebooktwittermail

Professionalism and the Police

I attended a dinner recently where the organised topics were professionalism and leadership in the police. We were an invited crowd, including many of the top brass of the police themselves and those who regulate them. It was a fascinating discussion.

What dawned on me as I heard the various contributions was how much baggage the term ‘professional’ carries. No one wants police who are not professional. But being professional isn’t about codes and policies, degrees and qualifications, social standing or respect. Being professional is about pride in your work, attention to detail, owning and upholding your standards.

Much of the conversation appeared to confuse criticisms about the lack of professionalism of police organisations (which was one of the most striking features of arriving in this world) with criticism of police individually being unprofessional. I would suggest they are not, at least to no greater degree than in other walks of life, though the culture they work in does not often help them.

There also appears to be an angst that, at its very core, policing is somehow an unsophisticated occupation. That results in a reluctance to celebrate the role in simple terms and to emphasise the complexity. I think that is utterly misplaced. Simple does not mean unsophisticated. Indeed the mark of true professionalism – and leadership – is to explain the complicated in simple terms.

Being professional is not just having a degree. There are plenty of hyper-educated halfwits with a deeply confused sense of integrity and little loyalty to a professional ethos. Equally, there are plenty of street-educated sloggers with a clear sense of right and wrong and profound loyalty to their chosen occupation. I know which I would call a professional.

What this leads to is the importance of character and culture. Only leadership can change the professionalism of the police and shape, so far as it needs it, the profession of policing. That is because only leadership can change an organisation’s culture. No policy, inspections, diktat or bureaucracy will change how people think. People change how people think.

Picking, nurturing and promoting leaders will be the most important thing the police can do for their profession. That is why I think the most profound of the government’s reforms to policing is yet to take effect. Direct entry, fast-track promotions and a wider pool of potential chief constables will do more to shape the long-term future of policing than any codes, colleges or commissioners.

Facebooktwittermail

Cardiff University Speech

Rural Policing and Justice – speech to Evidence Based Policing in Wales at Universities’ Police Science Institute, Cardiff University 19 May 2014
Good afternoon.

My name is Christopher Salmon. I’m the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys.

Please allow me to start by thanking Martin Innes for his kind invitation.

He’s asked me to speak about the centre of excellence for rural policing that we are establishing and its contribution to this debate. I’ve taken that as my cue. For the sake of his professional career I must emphasise that his responsibility ends there.

I would like to start by offering some thoughts on the future of policing and justice from a rural perspective.

Then I would like to introduce the Centre for Rural Policing and Justice and how I hope it can contribute to that future.

Future Challenges
The police today are emerging from one of the most concentrated periods of reform in their history.

Among the most significant is the reinforcing of local accountability.

In creating Police and Crime Commissioners, Parliament made a deliberate decision to tip the balance of power towards the public, away from the police.

The public interest – whether on priorities, the precept or police integrity – is now inescapable.

You can see it in lower anticipated precept rises, according to HMIC’s analysis. You can see it in our decision to scrap ACPO.

Most significantly, you can see it renewed emphasis on local need. That has created a huge opportunity for rural areas.

And there is other good news. Crime is falling. That is a success for which the police and criminal justice system deserve far more credit than they get.

But crime is also changing.

I, like many, have had emails from an extraordinary range of relatives from Nigeria to Ukraine. Each have a few million that they would like to give me, if only I would share my bank details first.

Each one of those is an attempted crime. Either that, or one of my ancestors was considerably less reputable than I have been led to believe.

I want to contend that policing in future needs to be organisationally slimmer, culturally more connected to community and politically more local. I would suggest, too, that the same applies to our judicial system.

And I want to suggest that the experience of rural policing has something to contribute to all of that.
Slimmer Organisation

The police will have to get slimmer because they will be more effective if they do. That requires a clear focus on their core professional expertise.

At heart the police are there to detect and investigate crime, and thereby to prevent it.

And if crime is falling and changing, so must the police slim and change.

The reason I say we must keep that mission clear is part philosophical and part organisational.

First, the philosophical. The police are paid to do full time what we should all be doing all of the time, namely to uphold the law. That is a basic civic responsibility, not a professional medicine.

The police carry warrant cards so they can arrest people, not so they can deliver lessons on sexual ethics to teenagers. They are the first emergency service and arguably the most intrusive arm of the state.

Second, the organisational. Large organisations need simple messages. They respond to very basic stimuli.

We hear a lot about the complexities of crime. Academics can define them. It is for professionals to turn those complexities into actionable instructions.

And it is for politicians to interpret the public desire to accept and fund them.

Connected to Community

That public desire differs in different areas. So, of course, do policing needs.

Rural policing demands a particular relationship between officers and community.

A junior officer patrolling a beat of 100 square miles faces anything they find alone. That has great implications for reporting, or victims’ confidence.

It also has implications for the evidence upon which we make our decisions.

We hear a lot in policy circles about ‘hard to reach’ groups. I challenge you to find a harder to reach group than a mid-Wales livestock farmer.

Rural lives take place on Facebook, like urban ones. Following Twitter conversations is the modern equivalent of picking up gossip in a coffee shop. Should these not be part of the rural beat?

(I can’t help the feeling that if Dylan Thomas were writing today, we would find half the gossip of Llareggub in Facebook posts).

The police have put huge effort into local policing – in the spirit of simple messages for complicated problems – into ‘bobbies on the beat’.

In areas like Dyfed Powys, the nature of rurality leaves officers with little choice.

I’ve made a habit recently of dropping into stores and asking if they know the name of their PCSOs. A pleasing number do.

We are now seeing, I believe, a flowering of local initiative thanks to the freedom we have to make our own decisions.

The question for the study of rural policing is how do we capture this? And, looking ahead, how do we bring to local justice what we have brought to local policing?

Local justice needs to be swift and sure. If people cannot see it, do not understand it or feel rejected by it, they will not trust it.

I visited Llandovery – where you can count the crimes on the fingers of your hands – recently.

But we also learnt about the crimes that no one has been counting.

I asked about shoplifting.

“Oh yes,” came the reply, “we’ve had a fair bit of that.”

And here we see the wonderful stoicism of mid-Wales…

“I haven’t reported it. I don’t want to waste the police’s time.”

Court and the legal process takes far too long, so the shop owner had a word and hoped it would stop.

Our justice is either quick and invisible (cautions) or transparent and slow (court). So, communities police themselves.

Part of me is glad they do. They are best placed to tackle their problems.

But I am not glad that the police and magistrates are separated from the process, because the system doesn’t allow them to behave as their communities expect.

What are the implications for public confidence?

We have evidence for the value of ‘celerity’ and ‘certainty’ in punishment – in the spirit of complicated words for simple solutions – or ‘swift’ and ‘sure’ to lay folk like me.

How does that work in Llanidloes, when available courts might be 100 miles away?

We have evidence for the value of fairness and legitimacy on likelihood of reoffending.

How do we ensure that in Lampeter – or Whitby or Penzance for that matter – if we are to dispense more justice outside of a court?

 

Politically Local

This brings us to the question of policy, and how it is decided.

The big – though far from most pressing – policy question for us is whether Cardiff should control the police.

I think it is a monumentally silly idea.

Our devolved model already allows budgets and policy to be set in Wales, more locally than any currently devolved service. That is a great strength we must exploit.

Policing and justice are not a commodity business.

The delivery of both – the service people see – is highly specialised, hyper-local and personal.

Even within Dyfed Powys, policing tourist towns in Pembrokeshire requires different knowledge from ex-industrial towns in Carmarthenshire or market towns in Powys.

In justice terms, I mean services people see and respect. Justice belongs to the people. Like government, a currency or credit, it is a measure of people’s faith in each other.

You do not have to read many letters from people let down by it to understand how easily we can lose that faith.

Nothing has done more, over a generation, to undermine people’s sense of ownership of public policy – and, crucially, their contribution to improving it – than it’s capture by a caste of professionals, academics and politicians who think they know better.

That is true across swathes of public service. It has certainly been true in policing, until recently. It remains steadfastly the case in the judiciary. That, for my money, will be the next Establishment citadel to shake.

Those responsible for policing and crime in areas like mine will need rural as well as urban answers to these questions.

Rural Policing

Where does that leave us?

I have outlined some of the challenges we face. There are many more.
Centre for Rural Policing and Justice
The aim of the Centre for Rural Policing and Justice is simple. I want to bring together these perspectives – the best of practice and the best of theory.

We have in Dyfed Powys – and in forces across Wales – a police service with great practical experience of rural policing. We have in Cardiff and Aberystwyth world leading experts in policing and rurality.

At its most basic, the Centre will be a partnership between the two. It will share police information and university analysis.

The Chief Constable will use it to inform decisions about police policy and performance.

I – and my successors – will use it to scrutinise that performance, but also the wider criminal justice system. It will support decisions about restorative justice, the Community Remedy, public confidence and so on.

For the universities it will add – I hope – evidence to contrast with the already considerable cannon of urban policing.

It will, with luck, deliver regular assessments of progress with the assurance of academic independence.

Where we have particular policy questions – from speeding motorbikes to domestic abuse or disappearing courts – we will commission work to inform policy.

I will provide funding and be the principal beneficiary, at least at first.

I see no reason why, in time, this Centre should not provide the benefit of its expertise to other forces in Wales or elsewhere.

We must remain closely connected to the UK and abroad. That is the value of academic partnership.

In the meantime, we are using funding from the College of Policing to run police-based focus groups. These begin to build our evidence base.

But they do something else, equally important. The process introduces officers to techniques that will allow them to contribute directly to the development of their profession.

Looking ahead, I would like to see secondments between forces and academia.

I know a number of our PCs and PCSOs have degrees in related areas – criminology, sociology, public policy. I know some are writing dissertations on neighbourhood policing or child protection.

I want to see thinking about policing recognised in officers’ careers. I would like to see academia experiencing the practical impact of their work.

The success of the initiative will depend on its ability to capture the enthusiasm of staff. We need to offer them opportunities that take them into new areas.

I have mentioned a few examples of where we face particular rural challenges. Let me finish with a couple more.

Hotspot policing has delivered fantastic results in tackling urban street crime. Achieving the definition required for a hotspot in a rural context is much harder. Crime volumes are low and the distances greater.

How, then, do we apply those principles in a rural context and achieve an equivalent targeted action?

CCTV is another. How do we best deploy it, as councils cut their funding? How many officers should I forgo to support CCTV in Aberystwyth?

Body-worn video is fast becoming the latest fashion. Companies are desperate to sell it. Evidence tells us that it cuts complaints. Perhaps it’s no surprise the police appear keen to buy it.

No doubt it has advantages. But what about its impact on legitimacy? What would happen if a rural force, with high levels of trust, starts filming conversations with the public? How willingly will people share information?

Policy, as I have said all along, has to be local.

The Future
But therein are our great opportunities.

Recent reforms have seen a massive devolution of power from Whitehall to local forces.

As they bed in local confidence will grow. We can anticipate greater powers and greater independence.

One thing we cannot – sadly – anticipate is more money. That means we will need more imagination.

Police and Crime Commissioners will need to look wider to meet the needs of victims and local justice.

The police will need to get slimmer, more connected and more local. Crucial to those connections will be the great well of experience that exists in academia.

We have world-leading institutions in Wales, not least this one.

We have some of the best police forces in the country.

I want the Centre for Rural Policing and Justice to capture the opportunity of each. And I want it to contribute back to both.

It will help us face our challenges, as part of policing’s future and as part of Wales’ future.

Most importantly, I hope it can support the most fundamental service a state offers its citizens – safety and justice.

With the talent at our disposal, I have no doubt that it can.

Facebooktwittermail