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