Tuesday, 1 June 2010

THE THIN BLUE LINE...

A measure of understanding on the attitude from the new Government towards our Police forces may be gleaned from the proposed cuts that have been announced by Nick Herbert (Policing and Criminal Justice Minister ) as part of a UK-wide cut of £125m in funding for forces. South Wales Police faces cuts of £2.8m, North Wales Police faces cuts of £1.4m, while Gwent Police faces cuts of £1.3m and Dyfed-Powys Police cuts of around £900,000. The cuts in funding for 2010/2011 have been announced as part of efforts to help reduce the UK's budget deficit

During the final stages of the last Westminster Election Campaign, everyone (and every political party) was heard calling ever loudly for more Police Officers on the beat which happened to be something which most people wanted to see. Now if you are lucky and get a quiet moment and you use it to ask any senior Police officer about beat policing, then especially in a guarded quiet moment and you may get told that it's probably one of the most inefficient form of Policing going, with officers walking for (on average) something like 49 miles before they come across a crime in progress.

Now while this may be true, it 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. Maybe this is driven by a desire for local bobbies on the beat that goes back to an earlier simpler era, maybe it’s TV inspired nostalgia driven desire for that mythical Dixon of Dock Green / Heartbeat figure which has now almost become a real historical memory – until killed off by successive police reorganisations, force 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 nostalgia and Policing are a particularly heady and dangerous mix, I can personally recall 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, end tradition, etc. All that aside, 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.

When it comes dealing with crime and effects of crime on our communities we really have to get past the usual meaningless platitudes about being tough on crime, etc. Certainly in the final weeks of the Westminster campaign the voters heard plenty of them what with the various London based parties making much out of how they were going to get serious about cutting crime, reducing anti social behaviour, and making our communities safer. Now that the dust had settled, then we shall all get a measure of the new government and see how they act as the empty rhetoric fades away.

Cuts, are not the answer, for unless we will actually seriously 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.

Policing, just like everything else is driven by funding - this is the reality of modern (and old time) policing, our hard pressed Police Service (whether in Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys or North Wales) all need 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 need a more flexible approach to shift patterns to tackle those periods of the day when higher levels of criminal offences take place and need to actually respond to local communities real concerns rather than the Ministry of Justice's (formerly the Home Office) perceived priorities and targets. We 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 our communities will lose out when it comes to access to Police services and resources.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice (and lets be honest 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!

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