Thursday, 28 May 2009

How thin a Blue Line do you want?

Now everyone (and every political party) wants to see more Police Officers on the beat, to see that once highly visible Police presence in our communities. Ask any senior Police officer in a guarded quiet moment and you may (if you are lucky) get told that it's the most inefficient form of Policing going, with officers walking for (on average) 49 miles before they come across a crime in progress. This obviously ignores the deterrence and reassurance that is generated on our streets and in our communities and may well be influenced by pressures from the Ministry of Justice, a lack of Police officers and the need to generate reams and reams of arrest related statistics.

Perhaps the desire for local bobbies on the beat goes back to an earlier simpler era (certainly UKIP would like to take us back to the day before the Suez crisis broke), maybe it’s a TV inspired nostalgia driven desire for that mythical Dixon of Dock Green figure now almost a real historical memory – killed off by successive police reorganisations, mergers, budget cuts and top down largely then Home Office driven changes in the way our communities are policed i.e. panda cars, the loss of local Police stations, reduced opening hours, etc.

Now to be honest nostalgia and Policing are a dangerous mix heady mix, there were those Conservative politicians in the 1990's who argued against the use of body armour, stab vests and side handled batons, pepper sprays, etc – saying that it would change the nature of Policing, create unbreakable barriers of hostility between the public and the Police, etc. One thing all of those things did was significantly reduce the number of Police Officers stabbed and killed in line of their duty – so enough with the nostalgia.

It is not enough to say that we need to get serious about cutting crime, reducing anti social behaviour, and make our communities safer – that’s all very fine, but just empty rhetoric unless we will actually invest in the Welsh Police Services and make more creative use of existing financial and manpower resources. We could begin to make our communities safer by making more use of Community Support Officers, but without full powers of arrest, and lacking in proper training this can be nothing more than a temporary short term solution, what we need are more Police Officers.

The reality is that funding drives everything, our hard pressed Police Service (whether Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys or North Wales) all needs additional funding and an increase in the number of serving officers. On top of that our Police Officers actively need the active support of our communities, especially if we are seriously going to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour and to ensure proper Policing within our communities.

We also need to develop a much more flexible approach to shift patterns so we can tackle those periods of the day when higher levels of criminal offences take place and actually responding to local communities’ real concerns rather than the Ministry of Justice’s (formerly the Home Office) perceived priorities and targets. There is a need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when it comes to basing Policing strategies on core or periphery because the end result is that some of our communities lose out when it comes to access to Police services and resources.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice (and honestly changing the name has not fixed the basic problem) has long lost the plot and has become bogged down in a morass of spin, number crunching, paperwork, bureaucracy and red tape; add to the fact that it largely exists in an unreal world far removed from the realities of day-to-day policing on streets of Abergavenny, Caldicot, Cwmbran, Newport, Underwood or Tredegar, let alone Llanbedr Pont Steffan (especially on a Saturday night at chucking out time).

If we are really serious about reforming and reorganising Policing then we need to develop a coherent national community safety strategy for Wales with a clear approach to tackling crime and the fear of crime in our communities. And ask and answer the hard questions: do we want two tier Policing? Should Policing target be generated by local Police officers and local communities, where are we going to find the money, because Policing is not cheap? If we want to solve or curb crime in Wales, then it makes sense for the control of Policing as well as Justice and Prisons within Wales to be fully devolved to the National Assembly, much of this already happens in Scotland, are we less capable than the Scots or less of a nation than Scotland? - I think not!

And by way of a final thought it is worth remembering that the Dixon of Dock Green (in the origninal film "The Blue Lamp") was shot dead during a robbery...

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