1. During a time of government cuts, how would you protect community policing teams?
Public visibility, engagement and responsiveness of uniformed staff, critical to public confidence and well-being are not best measured by crude figures of overall staff numbers or posts. I am already hearing about reduced visibility of PCSO’s for example when talking with people on the doorstep or in their High Streets. I want to see developed, in partnership with local people, widely understood measures that can be tracked over time and used to check that resources are deployed where they are needed. That these measures focus on community policing teams.I think that in order to supplement, not replace, these teams there needs to be a drive again to recruit more Special Constables. Also to consider schemes such as officers (Police, PCSO’s and Specials) on bikes for this might go some way to increasing visibility of community policing teams. There are 22 PCSO posts currently funded from sources other than Suffolk Police, and these need to be protected.
Suffolk Police Authority has received positive reports from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for it’s innovative approach in developing ‘shared services’ with Norfolk Police as a means of limiting the impact of financial pressures on ‘front line’ uniformed staff numbers. I know that without such collaboration Suffolk would be unable to survive the cuts and I don’t have a problem making economies in this way.
I am though concerned that Suffolk gets a good deal from all joint initiatives like this and critically that Suffolk people are more informed and engaged than they have been through proper consultation on such changes. I will be looking into collaboration in some detail to ensure there is no longer term impact on community policing teams. I do not want to see a merger of the two forces developing by default or, ultimately, the appointment of a single Chief Constable.
I have pledged to keep police on the street. I stand against the privatization of policing services as I believe it will impact negatively on community policing teams. The push for privatization is significant in our region and a major contract for Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire has just been postponed until after the PCC elections. We are seeing reference to ‘patrols’ in such contracts. Our police service is based on policing by consent and the idea that police officers are members of the public. Community policing teams are also supported by a whole range of other police staff and other agencies.
I do not believe our model of policing can be realised if we have private companies delivering a range of policing services from patrol through to the control room. We are already seeing private firms delivering public services refusing to answer Freedom of Information enquiries. They are able to do so under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’ and this means that transparency and accountability to local people is eroded. There is also concern that contracts purchased by the Government have wasted money and there appears to be no clear strategy to protect community policing.
2. Is spending £70,000 + on a PCC salary the best use of scarce public funds in this time of financial austerity?
I believe that the concept of a democratically elected person bringing local accountability to policing is a sound one. Additionally I have pledged to donate a proportion of my salary to charity. When the idea of Police Commissioners was first put forward by Whitehall gurus during the previous government, it was the Local Government Association (LGA) under the Labour leadership of Sir Jeremy Beecham that led the campaign to convince the government that this was a costly and unnecessary exercise.
Unsurprisingly the LGA had the unanimous support of Conservative Councils who all argued that existing Police Authorities were best placed to provide local accountability for the Police. The Conservative Party also though campaigned against the idea of PCCs and accused the government of riding rough-shod over the views of councils. The Labour Home Secretary took the approach from the LGA seriously, and reversed the decision to set up elected PCCs. It was surprising therefore that that the Conservative-led government should then institute elected PCCs so soon after taking power.
The annual salary is in fact the least of it. The costs of the legislation and elections at this time could, according to some estimates, have funded an additional 5000 police officers. In Suffolk, the basic allowance of each Police Authority member (currently 17) if claimed, is over £7k p.a. on the basis of a commitment of 25 hours per month. The total Police Authority budget is currently just over £1 million. This budget will be subject to cuts, but the Police & Crime Commissioners office (including the PCC salary) will eventually come from it.
Having said all of this, the people of Suffolk now deserve the best candidate. A PCC who has not had direct experience of working with the police and the wider criminal justice system and those most vulnerable in our society, will not be able to ensure that the police’s limited resources are spent in the best way. Nor will they provide the appropriate level of influence to other critical partners, and so justify the salary. I have the right background and experience which is why I applied. These are political appointments but I am committed to ensuring that I represent all the citizens of Suffolk. I will meet regularly with all political parties & Independent groups in Suffolk.
3. Can you promise to retain and improve existing Safer Neighbourhood Teams?
I ’m happy to commit to retaining Safer Neighbourhood teams and to seeking improvements. It is essential that officers know their communities and benefit from that additional local intelligence that comes from regular contact. SNT’s are however also dependent on a range of partners and this includes the voluntary and community sector, who often play a vital role at a local level. PCC’s have a role, in listening to communities, to ensure that, so far as is possible, policing resources are deployed to reflect public priorities.
PCC’s present a real opportunity to influence other partners to play their part. As PCC, in discussion with the Chief Constable and communities I need to understand what is working and what isn’t and then use my influence to bring partners to the table, to resolve issues of community safety. There are tremendous risks and challenges in trying to achieve this, not least because genuine fears of crime and victimisation and insecurity often do not reflect any calculus of actual risk. Only by working directly with communities, ensuring all interests are represented and have a voice is progress likely to be made.
4. What role do you think the Police should have in establishing positive activities for young people in local communities? What actions would you encourage them to take?
It is vitally important that the police have the opportunity to meet and listen to all sections of the community including young people who sometimes find themselves stereotyped by society. The Stop & Search reference group, led by young black men, I helped set up is an example of that. There are fantastic examples in Suffolk of other successful activities involving the police and young people. I would encourage the police to continue with these, but to ensure that they are inclusive and that they do so with other partners such as schools, clubs etc
Activities must be part of a sustainable wider strategy of meaningful youth engagement to improve trust and confidence and safety of our young people. Young people themselves need to be at the heart of this strategy and design it and they need to say when they want the police involved and when they don’t. I have already spoken with many young people, including Suffolk Youth Parliament, about a youth led policing forum in localities. As we have seen youth services disappear across Suffolk the role of the police and the PCC to influence other partners to develop positive activities will be more necessary.
5. Do you agree that rehabilitation should be the focus of the justice system? Would you promote community sentences and restorative justice for less serious crimes?
Yes, I do, with some caveats. I wanted to comment firstly though that we need to ensure offenders are brought to court much more quickly than is currently the case. This will be better for victims and means better outcomes for Restorative Justice, where it is agreed.
Recidivism measures the current failure of our criminal justice system to contribute to building a better society. If we can avoid criminal records for low level crimes then we are giving people better opportunities not to reoffend. Prisons are needed but the lions share of their costs are devoted to security not the rehabilitation of those sent there. I have 1st hand experience of some of Suffolk’s prisons and have been actively involved in providing meaningful work experience for young & adult offenders and ex offenders. As PCC there are some challenges here as the majority of Suffolk’s offenders spend their time in prisons outside of Suffolk.
I think there are opportunities as part of a wider national network of PCC’s to look at this issue along with colleagues in Probation, Prison, Courts, Crown Prosecution Service and voluntary and community sector working in this area. I will seek to influence rehabilitation opportunities for Suffolk offenders to reduce their reoffending rates when they return to Suffolk. This will include challenging the cuts to education, drug and alcohol services and ensure perpetrator programmes linked to domestic violence, sexual violence and hate crimes are available.
I am a strong supporter of Restorative Justice as used effectively it can help turn lives around and have a significant impact on reducing reoffending rates. Research undertaken by the Restorative Justice Council shows higher level of victim satisfaction and reduced reoffending rates. It is vital though that it is delivered by accredited experts and subject to close scrutiny, evaluation and monitoring. The Labour Party wants to see Restorative Justice offered routinely to all victims as part of sentencing requirements.
Community Resolution again is an effective tool, delivering justice and solutions at a local level with no need to go to court. I know however that the victim does not necessarily have to agree to Community Resolution as an outcome and the police officer has discretion (this may change with the recent announcements on this by the Conservative Party) I was concerned to read recently that whilst Suffolk has a high use of Community Resolution there were some offenders who had been the subject of multiple use of Community Resolution. It must not be used in place of alternative sanctions and rehabilitation tools in order to drive up detection rates and reduce the burden on a reduced and stretched court service. It has an important role to play and should be used wisely, by well trained officers, and its use, including victim satisfaction rates, must be closely monitored and evaluated.
I believe that the needs & wishes of victims should be central to the criminal justice system. There is an important role too for independent specialist victim services to help victims make the right decision. As PCC I want to ensure that these tools are used in the right place at the right time and that those delivering them are effectively trained to do so.
6. How would you support the right to peaceful protest?
The police have a vital role to play in ensuring that peoples’ right to peaceful protest is properly protected and respected. This is true for Countryside Alliance supporters to those protesting against cuts to disability benefits. I have taken part in many peaceful protests. We have a proud, legitimate and strong tradition in the UK of setting new standards and norms and producing change, through peaceful protest. This includes maintaining the right for life to continue as normal for those who live, work and visit areas where a protest takes place. It’s not an expensive luxury to be dispensed with. Nor should it be seen as an easy source of savings in straitened times. People will always campaign against injustice and in a changing world what’s seen as unjust will always be changing. As the PCC I will ensure, in discussion with the Chief Constable that this right remains intact and that the police response is effective and proportionate.
7. Would you give more attention to addressing environmental, wildlife and animal crimes?
Yes. One of the most pressing needs for the successful prosecution of environmental crime is a realistic schedule of penalties. I will seek to ensure that Suffolk Police are serious in pursuing environmental crime, working in partnership with Local Authorities and the Environment Agency. Additionally I will use my position (in conjunction with other concerned PCCs) to lobby government to make the penalties for environmental crime sufficiently strong to deter the crime. I would also seek to enable improved enforcement to be funded from the proceeds of the fines. Wildlife crime is often linked to other rural crimes such as theft of diesel and metal.
As PCC I would like to see a clear strategy developed with other statutory and voluntary partners to support enforcement and detection. Animal crimes are also on the increase and we know that in these times of cuts agencies such as the RSPCA, and indeed local animal shelters are struggling to meet demand. Again this is about partnership working, with the voluntary and community sector as key to deliver prevention messages as well as enforcement. I feel that these types of crime are too often ignored unreported and rendered invisible. This needs to change, but it will change only when people believe it’s worthwhile to report such crimes. To get to that position means people having confidence that their reports will be treated seriously and acted upon. As PCC, I will meet regularly with and listen to independent groups that understand and work on these issues and their wider social impact.
8. How would you ensure that the 52,000 people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds living in the County receive equal police treatment and protection?
I would say that the figure given is likely to be a significant underestimate. I know from my previous role this figure does not include a very transient population; people who are sofa surfing or those living in houses of multiple occupation. It is vital that the police have the trust and confidence of all communities if the policing by consent model is to be realised.
Statistically people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities are more likely to be victims of crime and so it is vital that they have high level of trust and confidence in the police. The right sort of training must be delivered throughout the service and a culture of discussion and openness on issues that impact on BME people developed. Officers, police staff and Specials must be empowered and confident in this regard.
Community led reference groups on complex issues of racial inequality such as stop and search are vital. Vital too is working with grass roots groups, who are equipped to understand people’s rights, to allow people to come and talk about their experience of local policing. This should include places where complaints can be aired in a safe place – 3rd party reporting centres for example.
My direct experience of police complaints shows that officers who may display racist attitudes are often poorest in their treatment of people generally. What is important is that outcomes from complaints and challenges are used to shape policy and practice across the organization to achieve change.
I think it is imperative that the Equality Duties are embedded in the police service. Analysis and information on issues such as Stop and Search, Hate Crime (including response times, support for victims, prosecution & outcomes) BME people who are victims of crime, BME people who are perpetrators of crime, Complaints, BME recruitment must be shared in an accessible way. Despite the demographic changes in Suffolk there remains a significant underrepresentation of Black and Minority Ethnic officers and staff in all roles and across the ranks and grades. This needs to be reviewed to understand why in order that positive action can be taken to address the inequalities.
As PCC I will lead on creating a culture of transparency and openness within the service. I will meet regularly with BME communities & representative groups, who must be actively involved in discussions on these issues to arrive at solutions & strategies for change.