“What do we need one of those for?”
Those are the words that have opened many of the conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks. It’s been a time of shows. The Royal Welsh Show was bathed in glorious sunshine – the first for months. Pembrokeshire Show was less lucky. Last weekend, Montgomeryshire and Carno Shows caught the sun again. No easy whether for hay. Good weather for ducks.
I’ve been talking to people about the new post in charge of the police. Police and Crime Commissioners are taking over policing across England and Wales from November this year. Everybody gets a chance to vote for them on November 15th. So, why do we need them?
To my mind, there are two principal reasons. They are an important part of local democracy. And, they are vital to the future of policing.
By electing a single, visible, individual to take charge of the police, local people will have a direct say in how their police force operates. We can get rid of Whitehall targets and bureaucratic checklists. The only target that will matter is cutting the crime. If people feel safer, and like their Commissioner, they can vote them back in. If they don’t, they can kick them out.
Quite a few people worry that elections will politicise the police. I can understand this. Apolitical, independent policing is a great British tradition and one that we must cherish. Police and Crime Commissioners will have to swear an oath of impartiality, and they will not make operational policing decisions. So, they shouldn’t politicise the police.
In fact, I think they will take politics out of the police. By taking care of all the politics, the Commissioner will free Chief Constables to concentrate on what they do best – being police men and women. At the moment, these roles are confused, leaving the police forever looking over their shoulder, fearful of offending someone. In future that will be the Commissioners’ problem.
Of course, like all things, how well the system works depends on people. The best way to prevent politicisation is to elect someone with the leadership, experience and judgement not to spend all their time playing political games.
These new roles will enable the police to focus more closely on our local issues – like rural crime, drugs and antisocial behaviour – without juggling targets set to balance the needs of communities from Newcastle to Plymouth.
We’ll be hearing much more about this in the coming months. Our big challenge is to let people know what’s happening, and how they can take part. Getting people to vote in November will not be easy. But, who knows, given the state of our summer, perhaps we’ll have blazing sunshine by then. In any case, I’ll be back and forth across Dyfed Powys for the next three months.
If the journey from Newtown to Builth via Llanbadan on Saturday evening is anything to go by, I can hardly complain. Long shadows stretched across lush and over-watered fields. Hardly a cloud blotted the sky and the sun disappeared behind the Cambrian Mountains. Long may it continue!