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Collaboration not devolution, says Gwent PCC

Published in News at 09:00, Tuesday September 9th, 2014. Last updated at 09:52, Tuesday September 9th, 2014

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Policing in Wales should only be devolved if it can be proved to be better than the current structure according to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Gwent, Ian Johnston.

Gwent PCC Ian Johnston made his comments in response to calls to merge Police Forces in the UK by the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW) President, Irene Curtis. Ms Curtis was speaking ahead of the association’s annual conference held in Warwickshire this week.

According to Ian Johnston it’s more collaboration between Police Forces that is required and not wholesale mergers or devolution. Mr Johnston also warned that it is not just simply a matter of devolving policing in Wales and that the process would be more complex because many areas of policing and the criminal justice system are so intrinsically linked.

“I believe the strength of policing in Wales is in its local delivery and to take this away would be a backward step,” said Mr Johnston.

“As I have stated before, to support any kind of devolution or merger it would need to better than the system we currently have. And it’s not just simply a matter of devolving policing – there also needs to be a greater understanding of the consequences of devolution.

It’s very complex because many areas of policing and the criminal justice system are so intrinsically linked that if you devolved or merged one of them you would have to devolve many more. So you would need to look at all the other aspects that need to be considered as part of the process.

And as I stated in my evidence to the Silk Commission, it’s my strong belief that any discussion about devolving the Police in Wales must take place at the same time as a debate regarding the transfer of the whole of the Criminal Justice System. The interface between the police service, Community Safety and the wider Criminal Justice Service is critical.”

According to Mr Johnston, the four Police Forces in Wales already work collaboratively and effectively with each other and it is more collaboration between Forces that’s required and not the dismantling of them:

“As a small force in Gwent, we recognise the importance of collaborating with other Forces and partners in the community because it offers the opportunity to achieve efficient, effective policing and helps to achieve savings,” says Mr Johnston.

“And Gwent Police is already proactive in collaborating effectively with other Forces and has developed a range of operational and support opportunities with South Wales Police and Dyfed-Powys Police. For example, the three forces now work together to provide one joint firearms unit, a joint forensic service; an all-Wales joint extremism and counter terrorism unit (WECTU) and a joint organised crime unit tackling serious and organised cross-border crime (TARIAN).

I have also been working effectively in partnership with local authorities and organisations In Gwent to open new police offices and desks in public buildings and to ensure that Gwent Police maintains a strong presence in the heart of the communities it serves. At a time when budgets being squeezed for both the police and local authorities, partnerships such as this, which improve local services, are essential.

He added: “Any proposals to change the current arrangements must evidence what the benefits are for the people of Wales. Only if devolution or mergers can be shown to add value to the current position should they be considered.”

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  • Cllr Richard Williams

    Police Commissioner Johnston makes some very good points here. Cooperation, and the structure in which this can thrive, is far more important than mergers which are driven by ideology rather than what actually works best. Like Commissioner Johnston I do value the local value of smaller forces. Police officers move around as they are promoted and fill gaps in coverage. This is not a significant problem in a small area but is a massive problem if the force covers a large area. Imagine an all Wales force where officers could have started their careers in Wrexham and then find themselves in Tenby. No local knowledge, no affinity or empathy with the poplace; result will be poor policing.

    I also like his use of the word ‘force’ rather than the politically correct ‘service’. Police are not social workers in uniform, though they are often misused as such. The job of the police force is to enforce the law with due regard to the real time situation, the locality and persons involved. This can be achieved only by locally based officers who are comfortable with the area and its inhabitants. Briitish police enforce the law with the consent of the public. As soon as they start to do otherwise, as I believe would happen with larger forces, their job will become more difficult and our communities will suffer as a result.

    In the first Commissioner election I did not vote for Ian Johnston but his sensible actions and words are convincing me to vote for him should he stand at the next election.