Cllr Mark Weston is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for the Avon and Somerset Police Force. He is the Leader of the Conservatives on Bristol City Council.
In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor ensured that the overall policing budget will be protected for the remainder of this Parliament. This is excellent news for the police and for the communities they protect. However, a protected budget cannot be used as an excuse for stagnation or acceptance of the status quo. Policing and police forces cannot stand still but must continue to evolve, whether there is a budgetary compulsion to do so or not.
Avon and Somerset Police are currently working with Wiltshire Police to explore ways in which they can do more together. I support the ‘Strategic Alliance’, as it is known, which could save up to £40 million a year by the end of 2020. This sharing of resources, procedures, and back office functions should be embraced and encouraged. There can be no retreat from reform and joint-working – every penny we save through collaboration is another penny that can be spent on front-line policing.
I have always been a fan of neighbourhood policing. As a councillor from a ward with a historic crime problem I know first-hand how effective it can be if the police get out of their patrol cars and engage with the community. Since 2009, thanks to this approach, anti-social behaviour is down nearly 75 per cent. In recent years the emphasis has gone off this kind of policing – maybe it’s considered old-fashioned – but its effectiveness cannot be overstated. A visible and community based policing model helps prevent crime, cuts re-offending, and reassures the public.
Efforts to cut costs have meant that the proven approach of neighbourhood policing has fallen by the wayside. The concept of Police Officers, and Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs), working with volunteers and partners needs to, once again, come to the forefront, and provide community policing to meet the requirements of the local community.
As my grandmother would say – “Prevention is better than cure”. Community policing is strong on prevention, whilst working with residents and local groups to find a cure. Over the last few years there has been a general withdrawal of community policing in many parts of Avon and Somerset; in fact community engagement itself has deteriorated. 72 per cent of Neighbourhood Watch schemes meet rarely, if at all, and many of them are concerned about the engagement they receive from the police.
My goals for Avon and Somerset are to:
- Pursue collaborative working as widely as possible in order to make savings that can then be used to support front-line policing.
- Put community at the heart of policing to ensure visible protection for all neighbourhoods. This will include reinvigorated engagement with Neighbourhood, Speed, Rural, Horse and Farm Watch schemes and enable clear lines of communication between the public and the police.
- Devolve and empower so that the police are held to local policing priorities and that rural crime receives the attention it deserves. The force area is too large to adopt a ‘one size fits all approach’.
- Work with the Criminal Justice System and the courts to speed up the judicial process in line with the ‘intelligent justice’ approach embraced in Staffordshire. This dramatically cuts the time between an individual being charged and appearing before the courts, particularly important when dealing with crimes such as domestic violence.
- Embrace new victim support methods, such as restorative justice, to provide a victim-lead judicial system that supports the victim whilst at the same time reducing re-offending.
- Putting the victim first – I will make sure that the needs of the victim come first, with better information, victim support and restorative justice methods.
My mantra is simple: “Cut Costs, Cut Distress, Cut Crime”.