Yesterday the Western Telegraph put your questions to Christopher Salmon, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Dyfed-Powys. Reporter Becky Hotchin was joined by Mr Salmon and Pembrokeshire County Council cabinet member for communities and the voluntary sector, Cllr Keith Lewis. Below are your questions and Mr Salmon’s answers.
How much does it cost to run the Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner? Do you think that the residents of Dyfed Powys are getting value for money given that you have very little mandate from the public because of the low turnout when you were elected? Kathryn Williams, Pembroke Dock.
It costs around £700,000 a year, but we’ve just gone through a change this year which has come to a close. It costs less to run the office now than it did to run the police authority.
I do think it represents value for money yes. One of the first things I did in the first few months was cut the cost of governing the police, which was previously done by the police authority and is now done by the PCC, we cut that by 15%.
On top of that the office of the PCC does more than the police authority used to do; as well as being responsible for the police we are also responsible for commissioning other services, for example drug intervention, services tackling anti social behaviour, supporting domestic abuse survivors, things like that which previously didn’t come under the police authority.
The low turnout at the election was a disappointment no question, but it was a difficult time of year it was the first time the job’s been done. There’s lots of reasons why it happened but it is still frustrating that it did. I’m sure that next time round it will be better. I think there will be more candidates across the country and there will be more interest because people know what the job is. It’ll be on the same day as other elections as well.
What does the Police and Crime Commissioner actually do? Katherine, Haverfordwest.
I am responsible for policing in Dyfed Powys, for raising the money for policing, for setting the priorities, and for employing the chief constable to actually deliver that. I set the precept, I set the priorities in the police and crime plan and employ the chief constable. As well as the chief constable, there are other things like tackling anti social behaviour, drug prevention services and services to support victims of crime that I also fund. The budget is approx £100m; about 45m comes straight from tax payers and 55million comes from the Home Office.
Many of our holiday towns are spoiled by people under the influence of alcohol and possibly drug taking, to the extent that it is unpleasant to visit the towns in the evening. What measures do you propose to deal with this nuisance? D. Jones by e-mail.
It’s definitely a problem we deal with. Our big problem is how rural the area is so we have to make sure that we serve people whether they are living in a town or out in the country. The other thing that is a big feature of Dyfed Powys is that some of our towns’ populations double or even treble in the summer and the police have to respond. The chief constable is very aware of this we do increase resources when there are more people. It’s important, we want people to come here we want them to spend money in the shops we want them to experience the beautiful surroundings and we want them to come back again so we don’t want to put them off. It’s one thing the police keep a very close eye on.
Do you share Richard Brunston’s opinion of sharing bilingual police services for an extensive number of Welsh speakers in Dyfed Powys? John Rhys Davies, Mynachlog Ddu.
A bilingual police service is critical in this part of the world, where a large proportion of people speak Welsh as a first language and people are more comfortable in Welsh than they are in English, we have to provide a service to meet that. I know the police put in a lot of effort. We’ve got the badges which say siarad Cymraeg and that’s so that people can feel confident about speaking to someone in Welsh if necessary. We’ve got to provide that service and it’s a non negotiable, but we have to do it intelligently. We have to look at the areas where it is important, and in some areas it would be much less important, but where it is crucial particularly in areas like Crymych and Ceredigion and parts of Carmarthen then it’s very important that people can speak in the language they feel comfortable in. We have a lot of native speaking welsh officers because they want to serve their local communities and they come from Welsh speaking communities.
What is the most pressing issue facing the police force in Pembrokeshire at the moment? Jon Howcroft via Facebook.
The issues that come to me most are anti-social behaviour, it is always an issue. The more general one we are having to deal with is financial situation and that is not unique to Pembrokeshire, it is also elsewhere. So it is balancing this demand to deal with anti-social behaviour and crime that never goes away and the fact that there is less money.
I think particularly in Pembs the biggest thing people are concerned about is anti-social behaviour and probably connected to that is drug or alcohol related behaviour.
We have the police tackle anti-social behaviour with neighbourhood police officers. The other thing that’s happening at the moment is there is a big consultation which gives victims more say in the punishment of anti-social behaviour or low level crime. This is something we are consulting about at the moment and we welcome input from your readers on what will be a menu of punishments that officers can apply to minor offences.
This menu might consist of anything from making an apology to remedying the damage to a small fine to doing a course, there are some options out for consultation. As a victim of low level crime the police would say to you that you can select a punishment. It means the person who’s done it doesn’t necessarily get tainted with a criminal record for the rest of their life but it allows justice. It’s the modern equivalent of a clip round the ear it tells the offender they’ve done something wrong, it’s quick but it doesn’t land the offender with a record they don’t necessarily deserve at this stage.
We’ve had a good response to the consultation so far. The people we really want to hear from are people who’ve been victims of anti social behaviour; it’s their views that really count in this consultation.
There are other powers that have now been introduced to ban people from town centres where there has been excessive drinking. It’s given more power to the local officers to do that. That’s as a result of new legislation in the last few months. So those powers are warming up. They may not be being used quite yet but they will be very shortly.
Do you believe that the money used on the whole idea of, and the elections of PCCs, could have been much better spend on more police and more equipment for the police? Steven Williams via Facebook.
The short answer is no. Although obviously we want every penny we can to be spent on the police, the oversight and governance and accountability of the police is absolutely fundamental in a democracy and it’s also crucial for making sure that money is properly spent. Again one of the priorities in my plan is that we spend wisely and we’ve been able to cut the costs of governing the police whilst doing more work. In my office we’ve reduced the senior salary bill in the police and we are going through a process now of restructuring and reorganising the force to ensure that we are spending more on the front line and less on support services and processes which are not the priority. That’s about reducing bureaucracy, it’s about better management. Because we have stronger local accountability, people like Steve can come to me and say “what are you doing with your money?”
Mr Salmon. Would you consider all police vehicles carrying a head collar and lead rope? With basic training at induction on horses/risks etc? Rural education as well as PACE? Georgie Barrass via Facebook.
I’m not quite sure whether the head collar of lead rope would be necessary, but I think the general point about policing a rural area is that you need to have a good idea of the kind of things you are going to meet. Most of our officers come from within our area so they know their communities, they know they are more likely to meet a horse on the road or deal with an animal in Dyfed-Powys than you are in Greater Manchester and that’s because you have a local police force looking after a local area and that’s a great strength.
I’ll look into the head collars and whether we need them but certainly the point about training on how to handle animals and that kind of thing is a very important part of what officers in a rural area need to know. A lot of them will be from farming or animal related background that is one of the great strengths. They will receive training n the great variety of situations they will face and amongst those is animals and dogs.
What do you think about a police investigation into allegations made about a county council which found the council completely innocent without actually interviewing anyone? Teifion Tom Felix via Facebook.
The first thing is that this a police investigation, so it is a matter for the police which doesn’t involve me. It was conducted by Gloucestershire Police not Dyfed-Powys Police so it’s completely independent from both Pembrokeshire and Wales. The answer that the police produced is the answer that they’ve produced and I’m not in a position to question that. I think the important thing here is that it was independent, conducted by another police force and that the process of law has been followed and until such time as any other evidence would indicate otherwise we are all innocent until proven guilty.
Has the rise of social media lead to a different approach in policing? How are you dealing with that? Jeremy, Pembroke Dock.
Society has always changed and the police has always had to change with society. Things appear to be changing very fast with social media but I think every generation says things are changing faster than they used to.
It does present challenges, I wouldn’t necessarily say problems, clearly the big challenge for the police at the moment are crimes that occur online, so you don’t necessarily have to go and burgle someone on the street now, you can do it from the comfort of your own home via the internet. That’s something the police like all of us are working like mad to keep up with but there is a constant battle.
The other area of course is the a lot of those insults and arguments that we might hurl at each other across the garden fence we now hurl at each other across the Twittersphere . As a general rule we should be free to insult each other because that’s what a free society is. But where that transgresses the law then that has to be dealt with. That’s something we are very conscious of and of course we have to adapt.
There are a lot of positives to the technology as well, we are spending a lot of money and investing in mobile devices to allow police to operate away from station. So you don’t have to come back to station and write your report, you can write it there and then and then it’s downloaded when you come into mobile range. That’s the part where we haven’t invested as much as we should have done in the past and we are investing in that area now. We have a trial ongoing of these devices in some of our force area at the moment. In terms of how we all live our lives it is moving online and the police need to do that too.
When are you coming to meet the people of Haverfordwest? Jean, Prendergast, Haverfordwest.
We are coming to Milford Haven in September, the date is yet to be confirmed. We will be coming to Haverfordwest soon. I’m not sure when the date is but we are on our way. We will be in Haverfordwest next year definitely and if anyone has a problem in the meantime they are welcome to contact me direct.
Does that happen a lot, do the public get in contact with you? Western Telegraph.
We have surgeries which are generally pretty full. What we do is we have a part of the day when we have by appointment meetings which are generally full, those are personal issues that people tend to bring. Then we’ll meet a school or community group locally to understand local issues, perceptions of the police and so on.
We’ve had a very good response in all the places we’ve visited. We are trying to get to some of the smaller towns, it’s easy to concentrate on just tehh big towns when you are in an area like Dyfed Powys and we’ll go back to the bigger ones certainly next year if not before.
One of the things to change with the advent of police and crime commissioners is the level of public engagement, for example my office receives roughly in a month what the police authority might have received in a year in terms of complaints about service or requests for things to improve or anything like that. Before they would have been dealt with in a very legalistic manner and there were never any opportunities to say “I’m just not happy with this can you sort it out?”. It had to be a complaint which was incredibly expensive and bureaucratic so that’s one measure of the level of increased public engagement.
How can Christopher Salmon keep politics out of policing when he stood for election as a Conservative? Mrs Evans, Newport.
When I was elected I swore an oath of office to serve all members of the public and not a party group.
The reason I stood as a Conservative candidate because I broadly hold the Conservative view of crime and how to tackle it. I think crime is a choice, I think it is the wrong choice and you must face the consequences if that’s what you chose to do. I think we don’t help anybody by trying to deny that and I think what we need to do is set boundaries so people know how to behave and how to improve behaviour and encourage people to both behave better and to understand the consequences when they don’t. That I would say is what I consider to be a conservative view on crime.
It helps people understand who they are voting for, if there is a label they can broadly understand who they are voting for when they vote for somebody who is conservative. Having been elected of course I swore to serve everybody. I am Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner first and a Conservative second. But I think it’s more honest and open and transparent to say what position you are coming from than it is to not do it.
Were you aware that there has been an increase in violent and sexual crime in the Fishguard and Goodwick area from March to April of this year? Ceri, Wolfscastle.
There is a real risk with figures, in that a change from one month to the next is probably not a trend but it might be an indication of something. We keep a very close eye on figures but I am very careful not to set targets because I think that targets tend to introduce adverse behaviour.
Though crime overall has fallen, and has fallen really quite significantly particularly violent crime since 2010, there does appear to be some indication that those levels are bottoming out and we need to keep a very close eye on it. What we must make sure we don’t do is create a system within the police which encourages crimes to be misreported or recorded in a way to make things look better than they really are, so I’m less worried about the figures and more worried about the reality of what I hear from people.
Cllr Keith Lewis: The people I represent very much appreciate the initiative around local policing teams personally I think it’s been a very important step forward.
I would completely agree. It’s something I pushed very hard when I was elected. One of the things that was very clear was that people wanted more neighbourhood policing. The important bit of policing is neighbourhood policing, that’s where the connection happens. Going back to the tradition of our police service the best way of policing is actually policing that’s done by people, by communities themselves. That’s what the neighbourhood teams do so I’m a huge supporter of it, the chief constable is a huge supporter of it and we have put a lot of effort into it over the last year or so. We have increased the number of police officers employed in Dyfed Powys, despite the fact we have to make these savings, by 30. So as of this month we will have 30 more officers than we did when I started.
Cllr Keith Lewis: The other very positive thing is about accessibility. Even though police stations are being closed, if there are officers present then the door is open and I think that’s very important.
That if you like is a classic example of why the role that I occupy was introduced and how it works. One of the things that was very clear to me before I got elected was that people were very concerned that these front desks had been closed, they knew there were people in the police station and they couldn’t get any help. So it was clear that, given the area we live in, we need t be accessible to the public so that they were confident and had someone to go to.
If you look into the priorities that I set one of them is accessible policing and that’s what the chief constable works to, so when he started he said “look I think there are some things we can do quite quickly here and one of them is to say when we are in we are open”. So he looks at a priority and says: “Right we need to be accessible. How can we do it? Well we can’t afford to put people on every desk, but if we are there let’s be available” and that’s where we’ve ended up. Now in the longer term we need to invest in more mobile facilities, whether that’s technology, more mobile stations or partnerships with councils to provide access points elsewhere, but that’s taking slightly longer. The very immediate thing we could do was this.
Cllr Keith Lewis: I was talking to my colleague who looks after housing. He was saying that since the introduction of the neighbourhood policing, the level of crime and petty vandalism on the estates has decreased dramatically. He thought that this was a real positive and hoped that you would maintain this initiative.
We are maintaining the number of PCSOs increasing the number of police constables. All of our efforts in terms of restructuring and saving is about prioritising the front line and we are actually investing more in anti social behaviour as well.
We are in the final stages of agreeing a contract with Gwalia, who are a housing association, for them to tackle with us anti-social behaviour which is happening on the estates that they are responsible for.
That’s part of a new aspect, the commissioning part. We have an agreement with them which we are finalising now to take referrals for anti social behaviour, where this is not necessarily criminal but it is a problem, and to provide the services to correct it; so it might be providing mediation to neighbours, it could be mentoring if it’s young kids misbehaving, it might be things we could do to help them improve their behaviour to take them elsewhere and working with families. So the money that goes into tackling that will reduce and prevent those incidents and that’s going to be done with the expertise of Gwalia.
There are the two major commissions the other is with Hafan Cymru. This was money that was previously spent via the home office into community safety partnerships. It’s money that came into my office and we looked at what we needed to do with it given that pots were shrinking. We managed to increase those pots as it happens and we went out to tender.
Gwalia came back with the best proposals for tackling the anti-social behaviour aspect and Hafan Cymru came back with some very interesting proposals about tackling youth crime and particularly preventing it. How do we stop this happening in the first place? The emphasis in tackling youth crime is looking at responsibility, helping their families around them, looking at support networks and things that might have led them to that place.Of course it’s quite often connected to problems at home and that’s something that Hafan Cymru dealt with very well in their bid.
That service is just starting up. It will be monitored, there are criteria within the contract and that will identify what we are expecting to see and we will take a view as we go along whether it is delivering and whether we need to tweak it.
It’s all really about making the best use of the best people and sometimes it’s the police sometimes it’s local authorities and sometimes it’s the voluntary sector. I think the most underused part in the past has been the voluntary sector and communities more generally.
We also have the commissioner’s pot. This puts the ill gotten gains from crime at the disposal of frontline officers to work with local groups and support local projects that can be anything that prevents crime or reduces reoffending. This is a fund which has been running for about a year now. That is a grant that people can apply to for small projects. We’ve given money to the street pastors in Haverfordwest, sports clubs working with disadvantaged children, taking children away from an area where they could be getting into trouble and providing trips.
Cllr Keith Lewis: Age concern has highlighted the problems of scams and swindles on doorsteps is it a problem that you are aware of.
It is it comes up. It’s not the one that comes up all the time but it comes up consistently. Some areas can be affected for a while and then it moves elsewhere. It is a great concern, obviously particularly for people who are vulnerable and living alone. So it is a concern and where there is a criminal aspect to it the police do take it very seriously. Sometimes it’s trading standards issue and in other cases it’s a policing one. I think the key thing here is recognising the vulnerability and making sure that, if people are aware of this happening, it gets reported. It doesn’t matter who it is reported to, police can pass it onto trading standards or vice versa. And that’s where the community links come in because obviously if you don’t have officers out there talking you don’t get to learn about these things.
Cllr Keith Lewis: I’ve heard concerns about the weekend staffing levels in some of our county towns are you aware that this is a problem or do you think that there is no problem?
I wasn’t aware that this is a problem; it’s something the chief constable is really responsible for. I will raise it with him and seek his assurance that he is comfortable that we are manning appropriately. Obviously in some instances you may want more manning at weekends because that’s when the trouble happens but in other instances you may want less.
Cllr Keith Lewis: The person who referred it to me in particular said he generally thought that the levels are lower at the weekend. A lot more of our anti social behaviour tends to be at weekend.
I can ask. In some places it might be lower, in town centres it might be higher.
Cllr Keith Lewis: One thing that I think is a real positive. I’ve been very pleased to see that police community officers have been visiting local community council meetings. I think that is a very big positive. As far as I’m aware that is a change. At the end of last year in the two community councils that I attend had an officer attend and introduce herself and ask for input on things that the members of the council were aware of. It’s certainly happened in the north of the county and if it hasn’t happened in the more urban areas.
Well it should have. You can decide things in Camarthen, whether they get all the way out to Crymych is another thing, so it’s good to hear the message is getting through. We have, almost universally, officers who want to help and serve their communities, what we have to make sure we don’t do is prevent this through excessive bureaucracy.
Cllr Keith Lewis: I would say in the past the police officer has had a certain aloofness. You only came across them in fairly stressed circumstances. If the community can feel the officer is a part of them they are far more likely to go to the police officer and just talk about perceived areas of problem before they become a real problem.
The consistent message there is if you see a police officer on the street go up and say hello. I’m encouraging the police to say hello to the public but I’m also encouraging the public to say hello to the police.
Cllr Keith Lewis: I think there has been significant progress in the last few years especially on the visibility side. There’s always the problem in rural areas of rural specific crimes such as rustling and there don’t seem to have been as many instances as there have been in the past.
Rustling is theft as is stealing diesel out of tanks, I’m not aware of it going up or down if anything it might have gone up a bit. It’s certainly something that farmers raise with me and something police are very alive to.
It cannot be solved by the police alone it has to be solved by the farmers who report it and do their best to prevent it in the first place, actively thinking about how to prevent it in the first place. We are going to make a big effort on home watch and farm watch type schemes community watch schemes if you like over the coming year or so.