Christopher Salmon is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys.
Fraser Nelson of The Spectator described us as mediocre non-entities. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, described us as dangerous demagogues. It was hard to know which way to look during the last Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012.
They may have over-egged their pudding, despite the occasional flop from one or two PCCs, but they were right in one respect. These positions matter. Police and Crime Commissioners control the vast majority of the police budget. They determine police priorities and they choose police leadership. Who they are matters.
We Brits have a wonderfully eccentric relationship with our democracy. Our Parliament is a glory of the world; one of the oldest, most stable, adaptable, effective mechanisms for guarding a people’s liberty devised by man. Yet we delight in disdain of our politicians. We don’t actually expect anything to change. We barely expect them to do anything.
So, when Parliament creates directly elected, local politicians with real power over vital public services we don’t quite know how to react. But that is what parliament has done with PCCs – and increasingly with mayors. It has given us someone to go to when something isn’t right and someone to sack if they don’t fix it. It has given the public a direct voice over previously distant public services.
We can change things. The decisions I make as Police and Crime Commissioner make a difference to the safety of people’s daily lives.
Budgets are still falling. Crime is changing. Technology is transforming our lives and public services too. In an age of international terrorism and increasing instability, the choice of who runs our police has never mattered more.
Since my election in 2012 I have increased the number of officers by 30, despite budget cuts. I have scrapped targets and spent more on technology so those officers are able to spend over 100,000 more hours on the beat. We have more help for victims of crime, from domestic and sexual abuse to shoplifting.
Crime and antisocial behaviour have fallen since my election, even as we saved £8.8m. Those savings have allowed me to reduce local tax by five per cent.
Those are decisions I made after listening to the public. Dyfed Powys is not a rich part of the world. We are the most rural police area in England and Wales.
We know crime affects the poorest most. The poor are disproportionately victims of crime. They are disproportionately offenders too. Crime costs the poor most, though they can least afford it.
We have much more to do. I am determined that rural poverty is not forgotten and nor is rural crime.
I want the police to protect victims by focusing on the areas most affected by crime. I want to ensure offenders put right their wrongs and mend their ways. That means punishment but it also means giving them the skills, purpose and self-respect to contribute to society.
I will protect frontline officers, increase investment in swifter, surer local justice and minimise the burden on local taxpayers – those same people who struggle with the effects of crime.
I can do this because local people are in charge. If they elect me in May, I will have a mandate to make our lives in Dyfed Powys safer, to tackle crimes that blight our poorest communities and demand improvement from offenders.
The choice at the PCC election in May will be this: continue the plan that has delivered more officers, safer communities and lower bills; or risk it all with untried hopefuls.
The only contender selected so far, for Plaid Cymru, offers little more than party political obsessions with separating Welsh from English policing. That represents a clear and present danger to the people of mid-Wales in this age of insecurity.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain. Who makes the decisions makes a difference. This election matters.