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Great Value

Today the Taxpayers’ Alliance publishes an analysis of Police and Crime Commissioners’ office costs.

What does the headline say? PCCs cost more.

What does the article say? Over half of PCC offices, 23 of 41, cost less. Overall they cost £2m less than the police authorities they replaced.

That is on top the fact that PCCs do more than police authorities. They commission victims’ services, which used to be done by the government. They pay for restorative justice, which didn’t used to be done at all.

Police and Crime Commissioners have saved money. I can’t explain the dark arts of journalism but I can at least explain my own work.

It is easy to be cheap. I don’t want to be cheap. I spend around £100m a year on behalf of the public. This is an important job that needs to be done well. And, done well, it keeps the police on track and saves money. Quality matters. That is the measure of great value.

My office will cost 5.7% less in 2015/16 in real terms than the police authority cost in its last full year (2011/12). It will cost £969,000 in 2015/16. In today’s prices it cost £1,027,635 in 2011/12.

What does it deliver? In a phrase, it delivers better rural policing. Crime and antisocial behaviour are down 4% since 2013. We have more officers spending more time on the beat for £8.8m less. How?

We put more into analysing police performance and crime trends. That has enabled us, for example, to pin down police mis-recording of crime as antisocial behaviour and fix it. Better scrutiny makes for better decisions.

We put more into communicating with and listening to the public. We have surveys to understand public attitudes to police policies, from firearms to road safety to rural crime. If you don’t understand public concern you can’t improve.

We invest more in support for victims, whether of antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse or traditional crime.

The office itself does more, for example managing the police estate. That has enabled me to save £3.1m from terminating the expensive Ammanford PFI. It means a tighter grip of major investments.

We put more into financial management. That means I can ensure that every penny of the £100m I spend is spent wisely. It means we will deliver more for less.

All of that goes to protecting homes and families. And if I do more, how do I cost less? Because I cut senior salaries and expenses and made space for a fresh blood and fresh ideas.

Elections for the next police and crime commissioners next May will be a big fight for the future of communities across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys. The public will test the measure of their candidates.

I look forward to defending the reassuringly good value of this one. We will know the verdict on May 6th next year.


Keep Justice Local

On Llandeilo’s newly restored Town Council is a plaque. It records that the building, now housing the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, was once a “Town Council, Police Station and Magistrates’ Court”.

Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, wants us to go back to that old tradition. He wants courts held in town halls, community councils and other public buildings. He wants video links and remote access. He wants he court service to be more flexible. On that, he is right.

Courts serve the public. They should fit in much more closely with the public’s needs. They should open in the evenings and at weekends. We need to get cases before them much faster.

If someone breaks into your garden shed they should be before a court in days. It takes months at the moment. If you are a victim of crime who wants to move on, you suffer while you wait. The same is true, possibly more so, if you are falsely accused and want to clear your name. Justice delayed is justice denied.

In Dyfed Powys 90% of cases are minor offences like this which can be tried by magistrates.

If your shed was broken into today it would take an average of 171 days, around 6 months, for your case to appear in court. It could take over a year. Half of all cases do not go ahead on the day originally planned.

If you have been a victim of domestic abuse you have to continue your life while you wait, with your abuser still at large.

That is simply not good enough. But it will get worse if courts like Brecon and Carmarthen are simply shut without fundamental reform to how they are administered.

Closing courts will pull justice further away from our remote communities. That must not happen. Rural communities must not suffer unfairly. They do not need to, with proper reform and accountability in our court service. But that reform is not evident yet.

If we want justice to stay local, where we can see it and reach it, we need local control. At the moment decisions are made in Whitehall or Cardiff. No wonder Brecon and Carmarthen drop off the map.

I made bringing people to justice a priority after my election in 2012. Some crimes were not recorded and too many avoided proper justice. We now record 19% more crimes and use 10% fewer cautions. That means we can give more victims their day in court.

If that good work is not to be lost as courts close, we need joined up local decisions. That is why I believe the government, in pursuit of its aims, should devolve court budgets to Police and Crime Commissioners. They can ensure everyone works to the same priorities, hold bureaucracies to account and insist on a better service to the public.

We have a great opportunity to fix one of the most neglected parts of our justice administration. Shutting courts alone will not work. Strengthening accountability and allowing local flexibility will.

Then we can return courts to being places of civic pride. Who knows, one day we might see plaques which read: “This building was Brecon’s Town Hall, Video Court and Community Centre”, though they will be virtual holograms, of course.


My survey for Dyfed Powys residents on local policing and justice is here (justice questions follow the police station questions).


Bobbies: To Beat or Not To Beat?

Nick Alston, my Conservative colleague in Essex, is wrong to dismiss ‘bobbies on the beat’. He describes the language as antiquated and calls for more specialists in detective roles.

He is wrong because he misunderstands the phrase as much as he accuses the public of misunderstanding policing. And he is wrong because he misses the point about crime.

Crime happens to people, in places. People, when fearful, want to talk to people they trust. And trust depends on familiarity, some kind of pre-existing relationship and human interaction.

As a former Naval officer, I’m sure Nick will understand the importance of winning over a population in order to beat insurgents. As with terrorists, so with criminals. You have to win public support to gain information, whether about shoplifting or domestic violence. That information is what catches your criminals.

You have to maintain the trust of the public that justice will be done. That has been the basis of law and order and the fundamental challenge of government since time began. You have to give the public ownership of the institutions which serve them. That means listening and talking in their language.

Nick reflects an expert’s obsession with specialisms – the sexy stuff of investigation, pursuit and intelligence – over the practical wisdom of the crowd – the mundane stuff of knowing your public, listening and watching.

Expert obsessions swamp not just policing but whole swathes of the public sector, too often at the expense of what is blindingly obvious. At least with elected PCCs the professional obsession meets its challenge in public debate. We can have these disagreements in public. That can only be healthy.

All of which brings me back to my first criticism. Nick misunderstands the phrase: ‘bobbies on the beat’ is shorthand. It sticks because people get it. The public are not idiots. No one wants to see officers hanging around needlessly on street corners.

A ‘beat’ could be digital. ‘Bobbies on the beat’ could mean officers who know their local streets but also local activity on Twitter and Facebook. It could mean bobbies on bicycles. What is doesn’t mean is bobbies screaming past in pursuit cars.

For all the modernity of technology, we still live our lives in relatively small corners of the world. Indeed, one of the great surprises of the global internet is how it has fostered the proliferation of hyperlocal communities, news sources and activities. The phrase may be old but the work is modern.

More than that, ‘bobbies on the beat’ is the opposite of ‘chiefs in offices’. It means officers on the front line, protecting us.

Public affection for ‘bobbies on the beat’ is a reminder about where our priorities should lie. If we want savings, they lie not in the bobbies but in the chiefs.

Our priority must be to tackle the towering, managerial hierarchies that stop professional… wait for it… bobbies protecting us on their… beat.


Never Give Up

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. There can’t be many more valuable lessons in life. Farming teaches it well. So does the army. I have learnt it again over the last two years. Persistence usually beats brilliance. It’s certainly easier to come by.

There have been plenty of times since being elected PCC when I’ve felt like giving up on the Ammanford private finance initiative (PFI). Now that we’ve reached an agreement I’m glad I didn’t. It means we’ll save over £3m over the next 15 years, which we can now spend on policing our communities.

When I was first elected I received a brief on Dyfed Powys finances. One item stood out. The police spent nearly 20% of their estates budget on a single police station, more than £700,000 each year. What’s more, only 60% of the station was in use. And the final insult: the station had closed to the public.

Opening the station was the easy bit. When I appointed a new Chief Constable, Simon Prince, in 2013 he looked at the situation and ensured common sense prevailed. He ordered that the station, along with all Dyfed Powys stations would be open whenever officers were in: “when we’re in, we’re open”, he said. Local officers removed the mobile police station from nearby Carregamman car park.

But the other problems were more tricky. We can’t change the building, I was told, because we don’t own it. We can’t change the contract, I was told, because it’s too expensive. We can’t cancel the contract, I was told: previous chief constables have already tried.

That was the situation when I described the station as ‘a state of the art station, in the wrong place, for the wrong price’. That is not the fault of the provider, Dolef. They signed a deal in good faith. It was the police authority who signed a bad deal. As PCC, I inherited that deal and I promised to leave no stone unturned to achieve a better outcome for the public.

After two years of work we have reached a voluntary agreement which releases me, as the contract owner on behalf of the public, from the PFI deal. That is thanks to the professionalism of my team and of Dolef. I should record my thanks to both.

To my knowledge, this is one of only a handful of PFI deals to terminate early. These are phenomenally complicated contracts, involving loans, construction, maintenance and repair. They are like a mortgage, build and a maintenance contract combined. In theory they transfer all the risk to the private sector. In practice they are hugely expensive for the public sector, which has an appalling record in contract management and is frequently diddled.

Nothing will make this PFI a good deal for local people. Too much has been spent for that. But, this agreement does make it a less bad deal. And it certainly makes it a better deal than the options I was presented with back in 2013.

We reduce the cost of the station, in today’s money, by £3.1m, compared to the cost of continuing the contract until 2030. This cost us £160,000 in professional fees, but it releases us from those annual payments, gives us full ownership and allows us to use the savings to protect frontline policing.

It shows the value of clear scrutiny, accountability and decision-making provided by PCCs. This could never have been achieved by committee. It required a strong team and clear leadership.

Most of all it shows the value of determination. Never give up. Rely on others’ brilliance, as I frequently do. But persistence works. I’ve just learnt that lesson again.


The public voice on armed police

Our survey on firearms officers produced a huge response. We normally receive a few hundred responses to our polls. This time we received more than 7000.

What can I tell from this survey? The first thing is to acknowledge the limitations. Internet polls have some great advantages. They are free. They are easy. They are quick. But they have disadvantages too. They are hard to control. You cannot assess who is responding. They are not scientific.

This one, like others we have run, aimed to get a sense of how the public saw the question of firearms officers carrying out routine duties. It followed questions from the public and a similar controversy in Scotland.

I have published the results on my office website here. The conclusions I draw from these, combined with the correspondence, conversations with the public and online comments are as follows.

There is huge public interest in this topic, with strong views on both sides. The volume of responses and national media coverage tell that much.

People acknowledge the need for armed officers. Most are prepared to support the policy of using them for routine duties when not responding to armed incidents. This response is similar to the response in Scotland, where 53% backed the policy.

Many respondents were alarmed by their own experience of seeing armed officers, or by the thought of them. The presence of armed officers in everyday environments is not always reassuring.

Police policies need much better explanation and consultation. I cannot find any evidence of public consultation when Dyfed Powys adopted new regional policies in 2012. I am not aware of consultation elsewhere for similar policies. The public’s voice needs to be heard.

Why does this matter? It matters because public trust underpins everything the police do. There may be good operational reasons why armed officers conduct routine patrols, but they only carry those arms with the consent of the public.

As budgets shrink and fears about terrorism grow, we are likely to face more pressure to use specialist officers on routine work. How far do we want that to go?

That is not a question for the police alone. The public must have their say.


Should Armed Police Patrol?

Imagine you are shopping in Tesco. A police officer walks in to check up on the store. They say hello to staff, patrol through the store, talk to shoppers and leave. You feel reassured that they are about. Good local policing requires officers to know what’s happening and to keep in touch with local stores.

Now imagine that the officer is armed. He, or she, is carrying a pistol. They say hello to staff, patrol through the store and leave. Do you feel reassured, or do you wonder why they are there? Do you feel the same about talking to an armed officer as an unarmed officer?

My job as is to represent the public and ensure their views are at the heart of their policing. That’s why I’m conducting a survey to understand how people in Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire would like to see armed officers deployed.

Striking the balance between force and consent is always tricky. We need officers who can tackle people who would do us harm – dangerous criminals, terrorists, the violent or deranged. We also need officers who can fix problems before they get that bad – who work through trust, consent and strong relationships with local people to prevent crime.

Luckily the vast, vast majority of police work involves the latter. Dyfed Powys had around 40,000 incidents of crime and antisocial behaviour each year. In 2014 we had only 126 incidents where firearms officers were deployed.

Britain has a long, proud tradition of unarmed policing. That is because we see the police as members of our communities, protecting those communities. They belong to us not to the state. They rely on our support to exercise their powers, which is why local officers are the bedrock of all policing.

Sometimes, though, they need to use force. We have specialist armed officers to tackle those rare – but dangerous – situations where officers need firearms to protect the public.

Pretty much everyone accepts we need some armed officers. The question is, should those officers carry arms on normal duties? Do armed officers change the relationship between the public and the police?

My example above highlights concerns raised in Scotland last year. Armed police were deployed on routine patrols. Faced with criticism in the press, the police decided to withdraw those officers from routine duties. Now they only respond to incidents where firearms are required.

We have 74 firearms officers in Dyfed Powys. At the moment they conduct normal patrolling duties when not responding to incidents. They carry their pistols in holsters when doing this.

You can help me understand how the public see this tricky issue. This survey will inform my discussions with the Chief Constable about how we strike that balance between force and consent.

I want our communities to be the safest in the country. To do that we need to be able to tackle any threat. But we also need to be realistic about those threats and make sure we do not damage the most precious asset of all: the relationship between police and the public.

I look forward to hearing your views. You can find the survey here.


What does the election mean for police reform?

Labour published their crime and justice pledges last week. We can expect party manifestos in the coming days.

On one level, what the election means for police reform is fairly straight forward. It will determine whether PCCs survive. Labour will abolish them. The Conservatives will keep them.

But look a little further and the answer is less clear. Labour’s plan, insofar as they have one, doesn’t explain what would replace PCCs. It talks about a victims law and odd technical changes to procurement and firearms licenses. But it offers no vision, no purpose to reform that protects people or secures our liberties in an age with less money.

We must govern our police. The question is, how? And particularly, how in the context of falling budgets and the rotten state of local government?

In our democracy we have local, independent police forces. They act as a check on central power, stopping any one force – or the government itself – getting too powerful. That means each force must answer to local, independent oversight. Hence, police and crime commissioners are directly elected by local people.

Whatever you think of them, PCCs go with the grain of recent reform. They are devolution writ large. They take power out of Whitehall, in the same vein as changes in Scotland. And they are directly accountable, like Manchester’s new mayor.

They have financial freedoms which mean they can cross traditional boundaries between organisations. They can make local decisions to cope with falling budgets.

In Dyfed Powys, for example, I have used those freedoms to increase the number of officers, invest more in support for victims of domestic and sexual violence and improve justice for victims with fewer cautions. And I have reduced the overall cost to taxpayers.

If the government had cut police budgets without also reforming the police we would have had just less policing. As it is, we can use reform to deliver more – or better – with smaller budgets.

Britain is still coming to terms with the loss of old certainties. We have less money than we thought. We are less inclined to trust institutions than we were. We expect our services to recognise us a individuals, not numbers. We have access to more information, more quickly than ever. Power is more personal.

Labour have not come up with an answer to meet these changes. So far they propose more central direction – merging police forces, confusing local accountability, directing procurement from London – taking decisions further away and trusting people less.

Theirs are the instincts of the old authoritarian left: what we can’t control, we destroy; what we can control, we throw money at.

A Labour government backed by the SNP, whose authoritarianism already runs rampant in Scotland, would turn back a tide of reform that began before even this coalition Government. They are a backward-looking, reality-denying prospect.

Whether police and crime commissioners stay or go is for Parliament to decide. But if they do, be careful what replaces them.

Strong, clear governance benefits the police as much as the public. Don’t be surprised if what emerges from a Labour government drags the police back into the mire of local government committee-ism. That is Labour’s comfort zone. It is also the graveyard of innovation.

Now is not the time for turning back.


Catching a Serial Killer

If you live in Pembrokeshire, read this book. If you’re interested in rural crime, read this book. If you want to know how the police catch the most dangerous criminals, read this book.

The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer covers the investigation into a series of unsolved murders and the conviction of John William Cooper. The author, Steve Wilkins, led the investigation for Dyfed Powys Police. He takes you through the process of reviewing the crimes, linking them, assessing them and preparing for court.

He includes extensive transcripts from Cooper’s police interviews. They give you a fascinating insight into the tricks and deceit of a serial killer. He shows the painstaking detail – and luck – required to catch a determined, evil man.

What you learn – at least what I learnt – is the extraordinary infrastructure behind a conviction. From the start the team are thinking about the courtroom. Before they even know their suspect they are considering the defence case.

Success hinges on meticulous cataloguing of evidence, spreadsheets to link items, analysis of behaviour as well as fibres and DNA. It requires a strategy that plays on the suspect’s psychology, using both the broadcast media and the quiet of an interview room.

For all the drama of a courtroom, it’s the methodical slog of the investigation that makes the case.

I learnt a little more about the police force I have the privilege to oversee. And I learnt more about the characters – both good and bad – they deal with.

What you do not learn is, why? Why did this man kill so brutally for so little gain? What created the monster?

We will never know. Nor will we know what motivates the handful of others who do the same. Like the author, I suspect some people are just evil, a corruption of humanity. All we can do is isolate them.

So long as there are people like that, we will need officers like ours.


Small Things Matter

Small things matter. That is the message from the research we published this week, called Rural Connect. It looked at how the police can most effectively cut crime in rural areas.

Leading academics from Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities worked with officers from Dyfed Powys to research perceptions from the public and officers. They reviewed literature on rural policing from elsewhere in the world. The work was sponsored by the College of Policing and forms an important part of research into rural policing.

Rural Connect’s findings are an important reminder of some old lessons. People in rural areas want officers they know and who know them. Relationships require time and effort to build. They turn on small things – knowing someone, saying hello in the street, having time to talk.

Dyfed Powys officers are generally very good at local relationships. I often drop by shops and ask if they know their PCSOs. A pleasing number do. One even noted that PCSOs have something to teach regular PCs about good communication.

But we have more to do. My job is to make sure that frontline officers have what they need to tackle crime. I’m going to look closely at the findings to see what we can take forward.

We’ve cut targets, increased officer numbers and invested in IT to free up time. Senior officers are looking hard at daily work loads to improve how we use our limited resources.

We are already planning a major recruitment drive for Special Constables. I’m going to explore bicycles, motorbikes or mopeds for rural officers. We will shortly launch improved watch schemes – farm watch, neighbourhood watch, horse watch, for example – across Dyfed Powys.

I want to encourage people to speak to their police too. Small courtesies are the currency of relationships. Saying hello builds trust. It costs nothing and it opens doors.

I want the police to walk and greet with confidence, but the public can help too – by doing the same.

You can read the reports and my response to them here.

My interview with BBC Radio Wales on Thursday morning is here (at 42 min).


The Battle for Better Government

Cardiff Bay ambitions for control of policing are dead. Or, if not dead, they have assumed zombie status, condemned to wander government corridors frightening the occasional apparatchik before melting back into their coffin.

That much we learnt last week, as the dust settled on proposals for Cardiff’s future powers.

Conservatives are not offering Cardiff control of the police. Labour have offered everything they can short of that. Much as Plaid might wish it, they are unlikely to hold such sway over the next Parliament that they can demand a change.

That is a good thing for the people of Wales, and mid-Wales in particular. ‘Devolution’ has always meant Cardiff control. Until the Welsh Government can demonstrate some degree of accountability and success in the areas it does control, we cannot risk handing over more.

Perhaps more interesting than the future of policing is what this means for devolution as a policy. The Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, has offered Cardiff tax-raising powers. That seems a sensible attempt to insist on some sort of accountability. If the Welsh Government wants to spend money, let them raise it.

But what if they can’t, or won’t? I wouldn’t bet against that outcome.

Then, surely we will have to ask some serious questions of the whole approach. There are many ways to get power closer to people.

Until now there hasn’t been much alternative. Now, though, we have Manchester. The Mayor of Manchester will have significant powers. More importantly, he or she will be directly accountable to the public.

If it works – and I think it will – the Manchester model will break the committee-ism which strangles attempts to improve local government. It gives people power through direct election and gets Whitehall out of the way.

Let us hope we are not too late. It’s hard to escape the impression that devolution as we have it has failed on almost every level. The English rejected regional assemblies. Wales barely supported it and has been rewarded with the worst government in Britain ever since. It was supposed to kill Scottish nationalism. Instead it has fuelled it.

Devolution as we have it has weakened Wales’ and Scotland’s voice in the UK by allowing MPs and media to neglect Welsh and Scottish issues.

We need each other. England needs Welsh, Irish and Scottish voices to counter its tendency to boorish arrogance. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland need England to counter their small, cosy and self-serving elites.

Policing is staying where it should: accountable to the public via local Police and Crime Commissioners and part of the UK government. That is a relief.

But the bigger battle for better government rages on.