Police Commissioners -The way forward


Article by Elfyn Llwyd MP

Later this year, in November 2012, there will be the first ever elections for Police and Crime Commissioners for the four police forces in Wales.

Plaid Cymru have opposed the introduction of these elected police and crime commissioners on the grounds that this involves a probable politicisation of policing and that is not a good use of policing resources at a time of public sector cuts.

At present, policing is carried out under the supervision of Police Authorities who include a range of local councillors nominated by their local authority and also members of the public.

These powers would allow policing priorities to be determined by a single elected commissioner, according to their wishes and manifesto, rather than these priorities being determined through consensus across the political spectrum and with more than significant input from the public members of the authority.

We believe that this is a retrograde step for policing as politicisation may lead to one viewpoint being prioritised over another and the police forces themselves no longer being considered neutral in how they treat crimes.

This could damage the hard-won trust and faith in our effective and excellent police forces in Wales. Furthermore, policing has to be by consent woe betide us if that consent is eroded.

During the debates on the introduction of these commissioners, the negative attitude of the UK Government towards Wales has once again been illustrated.

As local democracy is in the hands of the National Assembly, the UK Government needed our agreement for the re-forming of police authorities into what are to be known as Police and Crime Panels to supervise the work of the commissioner.

When the National Assembly voted not to give them that authority to change the rules in Wales, they decided that, rather than listening to our democratically elected Welsh government and take part in fruitful negotiations, they would come through the back door.

In England, local authorities will decide their members on police and crime panels while in Wales they will be determined by the Home Secretary in London.

This cannot be right, as it is unwelcome interference in Wales.

However, despite our opposition, and the opposition of the National Assembly for Wales, these elections will take place.

Although we are not in agreement with the roles, it is important that strong, competent candidates are in place to fight these elections on a platform which is beneficial for Wales.

Extremist politicians who might mis-use the powers of this role must be defeated. Those who would mis-use the powers of the police force must be prevented from getting their hands on the levers of power.

Plaid Cymru believe that policing, alongside the rest of the justice and home affairs portfolios, should be devolved to the National Assembly.

This is the natural home for powers in Wales, especially when linked with the notions of social and restorative justice which run so deeply through our communities.

We propose, instead of politicising the police in the way that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat have so damagingly suggested, that a more consensual approach could help ensure that our four Welsh police forces are run in best interests of our nation.

This alternative approach could see strong candidates put themselves forward, representing the ethos of Welsh communities and their faith in a balanced, diverse, proactive police force in all four police authority areas, with support across parties and from those of no party.

If policing, crime and justice were devolved then we would have the power to determine our own policies in these areas – and develop Welsh solutions for Welsh problems.

We would have a criminal justice system which responds to Welsh needs, not that of knee-jerk responses to tabloid headlines.

Plaid Cymru have several criteria for what would make a good police commissioner in Wales. They should be people who support Welsh control of the criminal justice system from start to finish, should put the welfare of the wider community first and should be against the politicisation of the police force.

We would welcome making contact with any candidate who meets these criteria and wants to stand for election as police and crime commissioners as an independent, non-partisan candidate.

If four such candidates can be found around Wales, one for each police force area, then Plaid Cymru would support these candidates.

If, however, such candidates did not come forward, then we will put forward our own candidate so that electors would have the opportunity to support the above aims that must be represented on the ballot paper.

We therefore invite members of the public who support our aims on policing to come forward and help ensure effective and improved policing for our communities.