The case for devolving policing to Wales

By Mike Hedges AM

Policing has been devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales is the outlier. In Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner have been merged into the mayoral role. Why should Scotland, Northern Ireland, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire have policing devolved, and Wales not?

Many of the levers which affect levels of crime have already been devolved to Wales, such as community safety, education, training, jobs, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, housing, healthy communities, as well as many other services relating to social factors.

Tackling crime and reducing offending and reoffending necessitate the police working with other public services which already operate at different levels across Wales. For example, support for those with mental health conditions both before they reach crisis point and after needs police intervention, and once people have entered the criminal justice system, that means working with the Welsh NHS and local Health Boards.

If policing powers were devolved this would allow for much greater liaison between both services locally and by Ministers and civil servants at a strategic level within Wales, rather than between Wales and Westminster.

There is real potential for a successful Welsh model which can build on the strengths of devolution without cutting adrift from the United Kingdom. That’s why I believe that police devolution should not include the UK National Crime Agency, national security, and counter-terrorism.

Co-operation in policing clearly needs to extend not just to the British Isles, but into Europe and beyond. We know that crime and terrorism cross borders and we need co-ordinated measures to make sure that criminals cannot avoid charges by fleeing abroad.

The Welsh Government have shown their support by their investment in additional Community Support Officers. The Welsh Government’s expansion of Community Support Officers, increasing their visibility, has had a positive effect on both crime and anti-social behaviour.

Obviously national security needs to be excluded because dealing with spies or terrorists needs to be done on, at least, a British basis. Also the National Crime Agency is a crime-fighting agency that needs to bring the full weight of the law to bear in cutting serious and organised crime.

What this leaves, then, is the day-to-day policing carried out by the four Welsh police forces – effectively the role of Police and Crime Commissioners.

The police do not work in isolation: they work closely with the fire and ambulance services which are both devolved. When you dial 999, you are not asked if you want a devolved or non-devolved service.

Another argument in favour of devolving policing is the ability to better connect policing with other devolved services such as support for victims of domestic abuse and the health service.

Many of the older generation will remember when we had Watch Committees responsible for policing in Wales. The replacement of Police Authorities by Police Commissioners is the only major structural change that has taken place in the police force since the 1960s, although there have been boundary changes.

With policing devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland it is anomalous that it has not been devolved in 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 and serious crime, 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.

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.

What these have in common is that local policing is local and major crime and national security are dealt with at the national level.

A survey, carried out by Beaufort Research for the Silk Commission on Devolution in Wales, found 63 per cent of 2,009 respondents polled were in favour of policing powers for Wales being devolved from central government in England.

I believe that the way forward is to devolve most policing to the Senedd, but keep the UK National Crime Agency and national security services. 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.

Mike Hedges is the member of the Welsh Senedd for Swansea East.

Image: Senedd building. Source: Flickr. Author: eNil, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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