Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
NICK Smith MP has called for an external inquiry into Gwent Police’s crime figures after they were called into question by the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Mr Smith made the call as he led an adjournment debate on the powers of the PCC in Wales.
Speaking before the debate, Mr Smith said: “Mr Johnston has had a troubled first year in office but questions still remain with key issues like the resignation of the former Chief Constable.
“Mr Johnston has queried the police performance figures, so let’s have an external take on whether or not the crime figures in Gwent were correct.
“It’s in everybody’s interest that we have police performance indicators that are credible to the public.”
A full transcript of the speech:
Thank you for the opportunity to debate the powers and performance of Police and Crime Commissioners in Wales.
Now in the police authority that covers my constituency, Gwent Police, public confidence has been amongst the lowest in the country.
If you look back as recently as 2008, Gwent Police were working to raise public confidence in their service from a very low 39%.
Even now, just 53% of people are satisfied with the service they receive -; one of the lowest rates in the country.
For a service built on giving the public confidence to sleep soundly at night, that is shockingly low.
This is why I am in favour of the PCC role:
It is a link between the public and the police that serve them
It is a check and balance independent from the police
If the job is not being done well, the public have the final say.
These are all principles we as members of parliament can appreciate.
However, many have argued there is no appetite from the public for PCCs.
For example, the Welsh turnout for the PCC elections was 14.9%, with a polling station in the Gwent area reporting a turnout of 0.
One year on those poor figures still colour many opinions of the PCC.
So, why is there a troubled mandate?
Well the original November polling day was the worst possible time to hold an election.
The large areas covered by each police authority make traditional campaigning very difficult.
This was compounded by the Government’s decision to not use free-post leaflets.
It all adds up to a system set up, to return pretty meagre results.
Having said that, let’s stop using the small turnout as a stick to beat PCCs.
I think, we must judge PCCs on their ability to restore confidence in the police in the future, not, on the botched system that installed them.
Now, the charity Victim Support encouraged PCCs to sign pledges to champion the victims of crime.
They asked for the police to be more victim-focused and more effective at meeting their needs, and giving victims and witnesses a strong voice in the wider criminal justice system.
These are the sorts of questions we should be asking when considering whether PCCs have been worth it.
Unfortunately, the Gwent Police PCC has been making headlines by not following another principle Victim Support allude to.
That is: the need for PCCs to be both open and accountable.
Anyone following the story of PCCs across the country will be disappointed with the saga of Gwent PCC Ian Johnston and his turbulent first year.
Now, Mr Johnston instigated the retirement of Chief Constable Carmel Napier on May 23.
This was despite Gwent Police reporting crime figures that at one point in 2012 were seeing the highest reduction in England and Wales -; 15% overall.
This has been a situation where a lack of openness or accountability has threatened to damage the PCC role.
Firstly, Mr Johnston’s request for the Chief Constable to retire was only revealed in a leak to the local newspaper.
When questioned why this had taken place, Mr Johnston said in part there had been doubts about the crime figures being produced by Gwent Police.
Well we will all agree this sort of scrutiny is exactly what we expected from a PCC.
Since then myself and colleagues have been demanding evidence that these figures were a case of statistical sleight of hand.
But six months on, Mr Johnston has produced no statistical evidence that these impressive crime figures were not accurate.
Instead, in a letter to me, Mr Johnson has said he’d heard reports from members of the public, and I quote:
‘that officers seemed preoccupied with numerical targets and talked about a limit on the number of crimes that could be recorded each day’.
‘that the Chief Constable was pursuing a numerical target driven culture that focussed on the volume of crime’
Now, an internal review of crime recording has been set up since the Chief Constable’s retirement.
However, I’m not convinced that is sufficient.
In the meantime, through press articles and the questioning of the Home Affairs Select Committee, a picture was painted of a difficult working relationship between Mr Johnston and Ms Napier.
But all of this coming out in dribs and drabs has threatened to undermine the confidence of the public in Gwent Police, and the voters in the PCC role.
Our PCCs must appreciate that although they are in a position of authority, they are not above authority. They must face tough questions too.
Now, the furore around policing in Gwent is reducing and a new Chief Constable Jeff Farrar has been appointed.
Having seen his work on Operation Jasmine, an investigation into care home abuse, I’m confident he will be an asset at the head of Gwent Police.
As we all look to move forward, I am proposing three things.
The lines of communication from the PCC must be as open and detailed as possible. In the case of Gwent, having to drag out information from the PCC has been a painful process -; and that isn’t right.
It benefits no-one if information is hidden or hard to obtain. That was the old system, and that is one we should be moving away from.
This is particularly relevant with police forces facing Tory cuts of 20% – cuts that are too far and too fast.
The Welsh Labour Government is doing all it can by funding 500 new CSOs during this Assembly term and protecting the community safety budget, but it may not be enough.
A PCC who is open and transparent could go a long way to helping staff and the public understand difficult decisions at a difficult time.
Secondly from a Gwent perspective, we need to have confidence in the data collection and performance measurement used to review our police.
We have all heard concerns from constituents that the figures don’t translate to what they see on the streets.
As their elected representative, Mr Johnston needs to look into the public’s concerns and regain all of our confidence.
Let’s see if the Gwent Police internal review of crime recording ever comes to anything.
However, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary are visiting Gwent later this year as part of their National Crime Data Integrity Programme.
This would be a perfect opportunity for the HMC to look into the claim that crime reporting was being capped in Gwent once and for all.
Could the Minister in his response let me know if he would consider this?
Finally, let’s measure PCCs against criteria like victims satisfaction levels within justice services in the coming years.
In conclusion, we in Gwent have seen just some of the problems that can come up with these new appointments.
We and the public will be judging their roles in the years to come.
It’s now up to the Government to detail how they are going to scrutinise the role of PCCs in Gwent and across the country.