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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.

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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.

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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.

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Building the Future

What do we want from police stations?

Some people say we don’t need them any more. Officers are mobile. They have smartphones. We want them on the beat and now they can work from the beat.

Others talk fondly of an age when every village had a bobby and police house. They worry that when a station goes, the police go. They want a recognisable public spot where they can find their police.

The answer, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. We certainly do want officers to be mobile and on the beat. But we also want the public to know where to find them. It might be possible to have both.

We now have officers holding regular surgeries in cafes, schools, and council buildings across Dyfed Powys. We have new mobile police stations. And we have our police buildings, which are now open whenever officers are present.

Many of the buildings we have, though, need significant work. They should reflect the pride and standing of Dyfed Powys officers in their communities. At the moment they do not.

We are about to begin refurbishing these buildings. I want them to suit a modern police service. Buildings reflect an organisation’s culture and values but they also shape them.

To quote Winston Churchill, “we shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us.” Nowhere is that more so than in a public building.

Over the summer, I asked the public for their thoughts. They recognised the financial challenge we face but they also recognised the importance of police presence in their communities.

Survey results suggest the public prefer attractive, open buildings, with a smart simple entrance and traditional colours. They liked a welcoming, calm interior with minimal barriers but protection for staff.

Police buildings – or parts of buildings where we share them – should be recognisable, reassuring, rooted in place and reflect tradition. They should possess a calm authority: reassurance rather than strength; confidence rather than defensiveness. They should be simple, clean and classic rather than fussy, complicated and contemporary.

I want simple principles we can apply to the great variety of places the police serve: villages and towns, countryside and shopping malls, streets and homes, pubs and farms.

Our principles should be flexible enough to accommodate different forms of ownership. Some will be wholly owned. Others will be rented. Some may be franchised stations owned by community councils or local business.

We should end up with more shop fronts the public can use and fewer buildings the police can’t. Then we can have modern, flexible buildings reflecting a modern, flexible police service.

We are shaping our buildings so that they, in turn, can shape us.

 

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Rural Crime

Who is most affected by rural crime?

I bet you wouldn’t answer farmers and young families. Or, perhaps you would, if you are one of those. I’d hazard a guess that most people involved in the police, local government or law enforcement worlds – including PCCs – would name the young, the old or the sick.

What’s interesting about the findings of the recent National Rural Crime Network survey is that they challenge our assumptions.

Crime appears to be significantly under reported in rural areas. Over a quarter of people did not report the last crime of which they were a victim. People in rural areas are more worried, not less, about crime than the national average.

Rural businesses report an average loss of £4000 from crimes that affect them, but only 32% claimed on insurance. The implied loss from rural crime is £800m, far higher than any figure previously quoted. Confidence in the police is much lower in this survey than reported elsewhere.

This is only one survey. Others tell a less dramatic story. NFU Mutual put the cost of rural theft at £37.8 million, down 15% on 2014. But it’s an important reminder that the real world is not always how the professionals and the policy wonks see it. We can all become swept away in groupthink.

This gives another reason why I think democratic accountability is so important. PCCs are up for election again next year – on May 5th next year. That will be a chance for the public to remind us what they want, not what we think they want. I’m looking forward to the debate.

What I take from the survey is that we cannot rest. Rural crime, like any crime, ruins lives and can destroy businesses. I want to make sure we continue to prioritise frontline policing, putting money where it works best. I want us to listen to victims so we can deliver better for them – and that means changing where they tell us to.

Across Carmarthenshire, Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, we have more officers on our streets for more of the time, than when I was elected. We’ve saved money, reduced household bills and increased support for victims. I want to continue that.

One thing didn’t come as a surprise in this survey. Strong communities are an important shield against the effects of crime. That’s where we must keep investing – in the relationship between the public and the police.

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You’re in Charge

Elections do a very simple thing. They put the public in charge. It may not be obvious to Mr. and Mrs. Jones as they go about their weekly shop, but they wield enormous power. They decide the future of governments. They decide the future of their local services too.

In May 2016 they will decide the future of the police service. They will elect Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales.

Police and crime commissioners are not a perfect form of governance. Like democracy itself, they are probably the worst form of government, except for all the others that we have tried from time to time… What they do, though, is give public services a human face. And it’s a face the public can change.

Since my election in 2012, I have been responsible for the entire Dyfed Powys budget of around £100m each year. I have appointed a new Chief Constable and scrapped targets so the police can focus on crime. I have employed more people in my office, but I have made sure that overall we do more and cost less. I have made difficult decisions, which others would try to avoid, like stopping money for monitoring CCTV.

I have done this because my priority was, and always will be, to keep crime down and people safe. That means the frontline – dedicated officers and staff – come first. So long as I am here, I will ensure all our effort goes to support these people, who protect our homes, families, farms and streets across a vast geography.

Difficult decisions are unavoidable in this job. All mine are part of my plan to deliver better rural policing for less money. Dyfed Powys now has less crime and anti-social behaviour than in 2012. We have 30 more officers for £8.8m less. That has enabled me to cut household bills by 5% since 2012.

Serving this part of Wales, the place I have always called home, has been a huge privilege. Last week I became an official candidate for the next police and crime commissioner elections in 2016. I want to finish the job I have started. That requires a plan and experience.

It also requires public support. That’s what I am asking for on May 5th 2016. I have the plan. I have the experience. I need the permission.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones, you do not know how powerful you are.

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Police and Fire – Modern Devolution?

Last week the UK Government announced plans to transfer responsibility for fire and rescue services to police and crime commissioners in England. I argued that Wales should not be left behind.

We know strong local accountability works. It ensures public services serve the public. It gives them a human face and makes them more responsive to local need. It saves money.

Strong local accountability has enabled me as police and crime commissioner to deliver more officers and less crime for less money. Since 2013, crime and anti-social behaviour are down 11%, we have 30 more officers and I have cut the police precept – what the public pay – by 5% in real terms.

We know that we have more to do. Further cuts will force us to work more closely with others. And there is no one the police work more closely with than the fire service. I am constantly struck by how productive that relationship is. I am also struck by how much further it could go.

Joint accountability for both services would make it easier to share tasks, like tackling antisocial behaviour, searching for missing people or road safety. In counties like Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, the benefits would be huge.

Distance is always a problem in rural areas. Sharing buildings, which we already do, is a great start. But by sharing tasks we could provide much better coverage over our huge area.

We would still need two services. We must not lose the historic traditions and experience of each, which have served us so well for decades. But you could reduce the costs and direct more money to the front line.

For example, Mid and West Wales Fire Authority spends £72,000 each year on allowances for its members and £1m on corporate and democratic services. The fire service employs five people on salaries above £100,000. Dyfed Powys Police employs two. Most of this could be saved and invested in front line services – more officers, better training, better kit.

So far my approach has met predictable resistance. Most disappointingly, Welsh ministers refuse to consider anything except greater powers for themselves. But devolution is not a one-way street to Cardiff.

Modern devolution should work seamlessly for the public. The Assembly is here to stay. PCCs are here to stay. We should both stick to the principle that power should rest as close to the people as possible.

Local accountability improves services and saves money. We have achieved it for the police. We can achieve it, with the Welsh Government, for fire and rescue services.

Where there is a will, there is a way. So, I repeat my call to anyone who cares about serving Wales: let’s find a way to modern devolution; let’s find a way to put local people in control.

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Safer Waters

Yesterday I launched the Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership. You can watch a short video here.

I cannot think of a better example of good coming from tragedy. The tragedy was the loss of Cameron Comey in the River Towy in February. Cameron was playing with his brother when he fell in. His body has never been found.

Following the accident, Cameron’s family decided to make something good of this horrific experience. Thousands of people in Carmarthenshire supported them with donations, concerts and fundraising. With the help of a friend they have established a fund and pulled together the Partnership. Its purpose is to ensure we enjoy Carmarthenshire’s beautiful waterways safely.

I was hugely honoured to be asked to launch the Partnership. My contribution has been miniscule. Others have done all the work. What encourages me most is that this is a grass-roots organisation set up, supported, funded, organised and led by people who care about water safety.

We had representatives from the usual local government agencies – council, fire, police, education – who all support the work. That’s great. But better still was the presence of voluntary organisations, the RNLI, Scouts and others, local people and the Comeys themselves.

My message to the Partnership is this. Harness this expertise, listen to the public and avoid the suffocating embrace of officialdom. If you can achieve only a few small things – safer river banks, better access, greater awareness among children – you will save a life.

You can do that yourselves. Don’t be slowed down by official meddling. Don’t get tied up in meetings full of guff about ‘multiagency partnership working’. Decide what you need and demand a change. The public sector is your servant, not the other way around.

I wish you all success. And I encourage everyone to support this great venture so we can all enjoy Carmarthenshire’s beautiful waters safely.

Go to Facebook and ‘like’ Carmarthenshire Water Safety Partnership to find out more.

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Change the Record

As sure as night follows day, the impending budget is producing talk of doom from the police. Some suggest that they will stop investigating ‘minor’ crimes. Others mutter about the need for reorganisations and bigger forces. This old record needs changing.

More thoughtful officers talk about the police in society: what should officers do, what should we as individuals do and what should others do. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Let us start with the current record. First, investigating crime is the police’s job, not a choice. That four out of five burglaries go unsolved suggests they need to up their game, not opt out of it. If priorities are needed, those priorities are for the police and crime commissioner who will answer for their decisions at the ballot box.

Second, large forces are dangerous. We have independent local forces for a reason. They are there to keep chief constables – and police and crime commissioners for that matter – in their place. We grant the police huge powers. We limit those powers by restricting the size of organisation any one individual can control.

Britain’s multiple forces are often described as a problem of policing. That is not the point. They are not there to make chief constables’ lives easy. They are there to protect our liberties from overweening officialdom. Local forces are as much a part of ‘policing by consent’ as the office of constable.

If that seems an eccentric concern consider two things. Consider our attitudes to the child abuse. We have veered from wilful neglect to something close to moral panic. Consider how much more sinister the implications of our response would be in the hands of a single, monolithic police organisation.

Child abuse is an horrific crime but there is a fine line between encouraging victims to speak out and McCarthyism. By the time you realise an organisation is on the wrong side of that line, the damage is already done: the larger the organisation, the longer that realisation takes and the greater the damage. We should not want a culture of guilt-before-innocence any more than one that ignores a victim.

Consider also the behaviour of the SNP’s behemoth, Police Scotland. It has £15m of government appointed oversight yet struggles to give a straight answer to freedom of information requests and, quite inexcusably, left two people dying in their car for three days. Who will be accountable for that?

There is no evidence to suggest larger forces are more efficient and certainly nothing to suggest they are more effective. Accountability is the problem of British policing, not force size.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council appears to be playing its predecessor, ACPO’s, old records: more power, more money, bigger forces. Equally concerning is that some PCCs seem willing to hum along. Expect to hear more in the coming months, as the reality of budget cuts comes into view.

Most worryingly, this drowns out more important questions about the police role.

Should the police be looking for dementia patients? Or children missing from council foster care? Should they be dealing with people’s mental health problems? Should they be dealing with sexting and bullying in schools?

Would those things be done better by local authorities, the fire service, health services or schools themselves?

These questions are rarely developed, perhaps for fear of being seen to neglect an orthodoxy that talks of ‘safeguarding’, addressing ‘vulnerability’ and supporting ‘victims’. It’s hard to argue that these are not important: they are. The question is, who is responsible: police, council, or perhaps even you and I?

Somehow, we find ourselves in a situation where senior officers feel it is more acceptable to suggest that they stop investigating crimes – which only they can do – than they stop dealing with Mr. Miggins’ dementia – which others can do.

Senior officers need to change the record: today’s questions are not about size and money; they are about flexibility and thought.

PCCs need to sharpen up: they are not there to be seduced by bureaucratic orthodoxies; they are there to replace them with public demands.

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Crime in the Countryside

There’s good news and bad news for us in today’s papers. The bad news is rural crime is real, not just about stolen eggs and missing animals. The good news is that we can tackle it.

The Telegraph reports that city drug gangs are moving into England’s shires. Organised criminals are targeting market towns and seaside resorts. There’s no evidence yet to suggest it has reached our counties but we must remain vigilant.

It’s a timely reminder of what people who live in rural areas always knew. Crime is not a ‘city’ thing. It happens in our remotest towns too. Drugs, violence, antisocial behaviour, sexual and domestic abuse are as much a rural problem as a city one.

Initial findings from the National Rural Crime Network, which I sit on with other rural PCCs, suggest a lot of rural crime goes unreported. I’m looking forward to more detailed analysis to help bolster our work in Dyfed Powys.

The good news is that, according to the Daily Mirror, Dyfed Powys is the safest place in England and Wales. I spoke to them yesterday. They wanted to know why.

I put that success down to three things. First, we have strong, stable communities which look after each other. Second, we have fantastic officers who know their communities and they are very good at catching criminals. Third, the public want the police to focus on crime, not statistics. They elected me to ensure that happens. Ever since I have demanded a relentless focus on crime: the police now record more crimes and deal with them better.

The last piece of good news is that NFU Mutual report that the cost of rural crime dropped 15% between 2013 and 2014. That’s only part of the picture but it shows that efforts to cut crime, like tractor thefts for example, worked.

Rural Wales has always been a safe place to live. That does not happen by accident. It takes great officers and strong leadership. We are lucky to have the officers. As for the leadership, well, that’s for the public to judge at elections next May.

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