The case for policing to be devolved to Wales
Mike Hedges, MS Swansea East
In Britain we have had piecemeal devolution with different powers devolved at separate times with no coherence. Whilst in the USA, Germany and most other countries areas of responsibility are either devolved or held centrally. In the USA California and New York have the same areas of responsibility as Montana and New Jersey. We have asymmetric devolution and as Spain has found that leads to problems.
A case has to be made for every additional power to be devolved which means that the powers devolved to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and to English mayors vary considerably.
Policing has been devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland; Wales is the outlier. In London, 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, London, Greater Manchester, and West Yorkshire have policing devolved, and Wales not?
Because something has been devolved elsewhere within Britain is not the only argument in favour of devolving policing. 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 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 often 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 is why I believe that police devolution should not include the UK National Crime Agency, national security, and counterterrorism.
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. 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.
With policing devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland it is anomalous that it has not been devolved in Wales. The same logic that led to policing devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland applies to 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.
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 centrally. Just remember that up until the 1960s the large cities of Britain policed themselves without anyone outside the Home Office having any concerns.
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