Policing and Community Safety
Forgot to mention in the original post that I also visited two Welsh prisons during the year, Cardiff and Berwyn prisons. I was part of the Committee Inquiry in to health and mental health support in prisons. Of course the Prison Service is not devolved to Wales, but the provision of health care is, as the Local health Boards provide those services. It is another example of the important overlap between devolved and non-devolved services. I have been very struck by the importance of proper haelth support for prisoners (physical and mental health) if we are to achieve our aims for rehabilitation.
I maintain a positive working relationship with both the South Wales Police and Gwent Police who provide policing across the constituency. I also work with the local community safety teams as policing and community safety will very often require a team approach to problem solving in local communities.
In this blog piece I take the opportunity to look at various aspects of Policing and community safety work and to reflect on some of my work around this over the last twelve to eighteen months, and some of the issues which have come to my attention.
Of course Policing is not devolved to Wales and the key decisions regarding the funding of the Police are provided by the Home Office with more local accountability via the elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
My colleague Gerald Jones MP plays an important role, and Gerald is to be congratulated on his commitment to the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme through which he spends some considerable time with the Police.
Community safety is devolved and that is how the Welsh Government has been able to assist in the funding of Community Safety Officers in Wales.
The types of issues which most frequently come to my attention as the Assembly Member cover familiar topics:
- Anti-social behaviour,
- Town centre safety,
- Neighbour disputes,
- Speeding / off road vehicles,
- Concerns over substance misuse / alcohol,
- Situations involving concerns over drug dealing,
with occasional spikes in conversations and discussion if there is a very serious incident.
While everyone should use 999 in an emergency it is important to also record non-emergency incidents and concerns via the 101 number. The Police often depend on the reporting of incidents to help them direct staff to the right places. If there are concerns then local patrols can be adjusted and places checked in more detail.
On occasions the 101 number might be busy but you can request a call back from the centre as the matter being reported should not be an emergency (for which 999 is the correct number). I saw this system in action on my recent visit to the Public Service Centre in Bridgend.
I am also clear that going on general social media like local Facebook sites to just complain about behaviour is not sufficient in helping the Police to gather intelligence and the evidence they need.
PACT MEETINGS – POLICE AND COMMUNITIES TOGETHER
I know from local councillors that PACT meetings are useful in having a regular dialogue with local Policing teams about issues within communities. Each PACT can identify their own local priorities on a rolling basis and help the Police to be more responsive in their work in each community.
I’m also aware of a number of active Neighbourhood Watch groups across the constituency and they are another valuable part of keeping communities safe and doing other good work e.g. community clean-up projects and taking pride in our surroundings.
As we are aware the Police have seen a significant cut in their numbers by the UK Tory Government and in my visit to the Public Service Centre I saw the way in which they therefore can prioritise calls depending on the severity of the incident being reported. The call handlers have great skills in obtaining the necessary information from callers, and the command structure can then allocate policing and other resources accordingly.
The Centre now has mental health nurses and advisers based there so that appropriate support can be offered and calls diverted to an appropriate type of response. This is a really important innovation and I do believe the co-location and integration of different skills and teams helps provide the best response.
I also discussed issues around Police responses when I went for a “ride out” in a police response vehicle in Merthyr Tydfil.
MULTI-AGENCY SAFEGUARDING HUB
As with the Public Service Centre in Bridgend I saw similar benefits on my visit to the Cwm Taf Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in Pontypridd. The MASH brings together local authority social workers, Police, Health Board, Probation Service and Rehabilitation services in one unit that can make effective decisions around safeguarding of children and adults.
I see little reason as to why an approach such as this cannot be adopted across Wales as it would appear to offer best practice in safeguarding work.
MISSING CHILDREN HUB
Similarly the Missing Children’s Hub in Gwent offers many valuable lessons and is effective providing support across five local authorities, The Police, Health Board, education authorities and third sector. This work includes co-location of staff, sharing information and engaging young people in decisions.
Another issue that is very apparent in community safety and policing work is the prevalence of mental health issues. I often also see these issues in my case work and I discussed it in my visit to the custody suite at Merthyr police station.
It is clear that the Police have a significant part of their resource occupied with issues around mental health as they are the service that must always respond to calls. However a lot of Police officer time can be taken up around issues of accompanying people to a place of safety and in ensuring moments of crisis are supported and de-escalated.
Sadly the levels of domestic violence and abuse in our communities are too high. I know it is a high priority for the Police and for key partners like Safer Merthyr Tydfil.
I have visited a range of local refuges and heard at first hand the invaluable role of organisations who help people to take the vital steps to a safer life. ‘Live Fear Free’ is an important campaign that I support on my social media.
I am happy to join Police and Community Support Officers in their patrols and to see at first hand the way in which they work in the community to support individuals, check out reports of concerns and be a reassuring presence.
As stated earlier the numbers of Police have been reduced dramatically since 2010 so any move to restore police numbers is very welcome.
NATURE OF CRIME
However as I have also found the nature of crime has, and is, changing. There is a significant growth in cyber crime and online crime including sexual and child exploitation.
This means that our Police need new and different skills in order to respond to such crime. Again it is a different type of demand that is placing pressure on limited Police resources.
SAFER MERTHYR TYDFIL AND SAFER CAERPHILLY
I also welcome the opportunity to join events organised by the community safety organisations across the constituency. It is often in community, or themed based, events that the best engagement happens with our communities and with other local partners. They have very valuable roles in areas such as domestic abuse or interventions in anti-social behaviour.
It has also been a joy to watch the development and success of the Heddlu Bach (mini Police) in the Upper Rhymney valley over the last two years. Everyone involved is to be congratulated on such a positive scheme and to se young people take pride and respect in their community.
MONEY LENDING AND SCAMS
I am also happy to support the work of Trading Standards and the Police in tackling illegal money lending – stop the loan sharks.
These days there is also a growing problem around scams. Again I am happy to support campaigns to highlight the danger of scams.
SAFETY ON TRAINS – text 61016
I have also become more aware of the service provided by British Transport Police to safely report disorder and problems on trains. This includes the 61016 text number through which you can report crime or incidents discreetly. This is useful to report non-emergency incidents (this is similar to 1010 for local police).
POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONERS
Finally I welcome the strong relationship I have with the two Police and Crime Commissioners (Alun Michael in South Wales and Jeff Cuthbert in Gwent). While many conversations with the Police relate to incidents and complaints which are generally operational issues for the local officers, it is the Commissioners who have an important role in determining priorities and in recommending the police precept to help raise finance for helping to keep communities safe.
To close my thanks goes to everyone who helps to keep our communities safe. I have seen much to admire in the constituency. A special thanks goes to serving officers who on an hourly and daily basis are responding to calls and keeping us all as safe as possible.
In the next phase of this work I want to look at the Courts Service (not devolved but a part of the jigsaw) and to visit other services e.g. Fire and Rescue. This all helps to inform my work as the local AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.
And remember 999 in an emergency -but also use 101 to help the Police gather information.