Mike Hedges says that Wales should follow practice across the democratic world and give control of law enforcement to the Welsh Government
The replacement of Police Authorities by Police Commissioners is the only major structural change that has taken place in the force since the 1960s. South Wales, Dyfed Powys, North Wales and Gwent have been in their current form, with minor amendments on local government reorganisation in 1996, since the late 1960s.
One major change has been the introduction of Police Community Support Officers throughout Wales to provide on the ground visible policing in communities. As the South Wales Police website puts it, “A Police Community Support Officer is what it says on the tin. It’s all about providing that vital link between the community and the police service to make sure everyone has the support they need.
By engaging with the people in your area, you will take the initiative to seek out what the public want and what South Wales Police can do to get results. Whether it’s stopping speeding outside our schools, reporting vandalism, or reducing antisocial behaviour, your work will make a real difference in keeping South Wales safe.”
The Welsh Government’s expansion of Community Support Officers by an additional 500 will further increase their visibility and hopefully have a positive effect on both crime and anti social behaviour. Community Support Officers are now the public face of policing in communities and in many cases they have built up excellent relationships with their local community.
Many of the older generation will remember when we had Watch Committees responsible for policing in Wales. During most of the 20th Century policing was a local government function controlled by the Watch Committees of the relevant county, or in the case of Swansea, Cardiff, Merthyr and Newport, the County Borough Council. We then moved from the local Watch Committee to two Police Committees covering the whole of Glamorgan and Gwent with very little control over the local police force.
With policing devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland it is wrong that it has not been devolved to Wales. Looking at continental Europe and North America it is Wales that appears out of step. Across most of the democratic world other than control of national security, policing is carried out by the regional or local police forces
Law enforcement in Germany lies with the 16 federal states. Each lays down the organisation and duties of its police. Germany also has a central police force with responsibility for border security, protection of federal buildings and a mobile response force that is able to help out, or reinforce, state police if requested to do so. Concern about terrorism and the growth of organised crime have led to calls for centralised police procedures and operations but this has been resisted.
Law enforcement in Spain is complicated but can be simplified into the national police such as the civil guard and the national police corp, regional police forces and local or municipal police forces. The national police concentrate on things such as drug enforcement, immigration and border security. The regional police concentrate on protecting buildings and protection of individuals. The local police tend to deal with matters such as traffic offences and the enforcement of local laws.
Policing in the USA consists of federal agencies like the FBI, state agencies such as highway patrol and local policing by county police and sheriff departments. Some county and some sheriff departments provide the full range of police services. In other areas there are boundary lines between the sheriff’s department and the county police.
What all these have in common is that local policing is local and major crime and national security are dealt with at the regional and national level. Again older readers and those familiar with crime novels set in the 1950s and 1960s will recall that Scotland Yard would only be called in for the most serious cases.
I believe that the way forward is to devolve most policing to the National Assembly but have a joint serious crimes body with England and the other devolved nations. Just remember that up until the 1960s the large cities of Britain policed themselves without anyone outside the Home Office having any concerns. We should get back the right to police ourselves and hand local policing to the Welsh Government.