Last week the Home Office released figures that showed the number of police officers has fallen to a nine-year low, with a dramatic drop in particular in the South Wales Police Force’s numbers of 6.2% in the last year alone. We need to look at how we can deal with these cuts whilst not putting people or their neighbourhoods at risk.
One way of looking at how we can work around them is by using the police’s potential to help prevent crime, as well as “detect” crime. We have to look at this more tactically and use the resources remaining more strategically if South Wales is to stay as safe as it has been. It’s encouraging to know that despite these challenges, South Wales had a 6.9% overall drop in crime this year. There was also a 21% drop in anti-social behaviour and an 8.9% drop in violent crime. Apparently this is the equivalent to 6,439 fewer victims of crime.
The ‘bobbies on the beat’ don’t just fight crime with arrests. Having officers on the street is important but the different, various police roles are worth looking at more closely. The general Police Officer with the powers of arrest is the most widely recognised but they also work alongside Special Constables and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).
Special Constables are unpaid, volunteer positions who have the same powers of officers. They are often interested members of the public who want to help out and are an integral link between neighbourhoods and the police and should be applauded for their dedication.
PCSOs are vital support networks to officers and constables and are also an excellent, visible link to the demands of individual communities. They’re paid positions who are usually at the frontline. They are often the ones who are preventing smaller crimes from escalating and can potentially create a dialogue between the public and the police.
PCSOs come to my mind when thinking about how we can prevent crime in the first place, rather than it getting to the point when we need to arrest people. Anti-social behaviour orders are great ways to send a signal to young people that they’re going down the wrong path, giving them a chance to change before it’s too late and become forever tainted with a criminal record. I know many constituents who are incredibly grateful for this second chance. PCSOs and other community-based officers can use these to prevent crimes before the cuffs have to go on anyone. The Howard League for Penal Reform works to reintegrate young people back into communities rather than the criminal justice system and they recently found that short prison sentences are much less effective than community orders or suspended sentence orders. People who are put into prison for even a short amount of time are much more likely to reoffend, as they’ve already been placed into that environment, instead of being put into their community to repay their debt. I’d like to have police officers working just as hard to keep people out of prisons and away from a ‘revolving door of crime’ as they do to keep the streets safe.