19 Mar 2015

Local bobbies with local knowledge making local decisions – they’re crucial to helping residents of rural Wales feel safe.

High-level new research by university specialists reveals that communities want stronger neighbourhood bonds with the police.

Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, who funded the work known as Rural Connect, said: “Local policing is vital. I want officers to know - and be known - in their communities. That way we build trust and confidence.

“This research is an important reminder of some old lessons. Local people say the small stuff matters. We must tackle the crime and antisocial behaviour that doesn’t make headlines but does make their lives miserable.

“Senior officers must encourage the effort needed to build grassroots relationships; they must empower local officers to make judgments.

“Clear communication between the police and public is vital but it takes time, skill and effort.

“Rural Connect contains strong messages from the public and the police. It’s an important piece of research that will help us improve how we police rural communities.”

Dyfed-Powys has unique challenges due to its rural nature; it’s the biggest police force area in England and Wales, covering more than half the land mass of the principality, and has a thinly spread small population of around 520,000.

In light of the report, Mr Salmon’s actions will include exploring:

  • Better mobility for local officers, including cycles and mopeds;

  • More Special Constables with specialist local or professional knowledge;

  • A Say Hello! campaign encouraging officers and public to speak more often.

  • Local initiatives to replace ineffective PACT meetings;

  • More public access to mediation.

He is already considering how schools work can become the responsibility of local officers.

He wants a better 101 system, more investment in police IT, a review of police middle management and to review provision of the Bobby Van service – “Its withdrawal was a mistake.”

The research was led by the Universities' Police Science Institute (UPSI) based at Cardiff University and used the expertise of Aberystwyth University’s Department of Law and Criminology.

It included detailed discussions with members of the public, police officers and police staff. The sessions were run by UPSI, the Commissioner’s Office and Dyfed-Powys Police.

The key question was: “How can the police best connect with people living in rural communities?”

Mr Salmon said: “The voices in this research deserve to be heard. They highlight key areas that we need to address. Some of these areas require small tweaks; others need more fundamental work. I will explore them all in more detail with the Chief Constable.”

The Rural Connect report is published today and concludes that, although excellent work is being done by police communities across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys, much still needs to be done.

It recommends that neighbourhood police officers and volunteers should be fully valued, that local knowledge should be developed and retained, that local decision making should be encouraged and that the police should connect more with local people.

Mr Salmon said: “This research is already having an impact; it’s being woven into the force’s strategy for rural policing which is being developed.

“I want the police to be innovative and outward-thinking in working with local people. Already I’ve removed their targets, have brought a new focus to community policing, have created 30 new police officer posts and IT will bring 100,000 more hours on the beat this year.

“Local police officers are using my grants to help local organisations thrive, they’re embracing innovations such as Twitter and I regularly witness strong relationships between officers, PCSOs and local people.

“But there’s a long way to go. The public have given me more ideas about what they want, I’ll be working hard with the Chief Constable to drive improvements and I’m already starting to build on the Rural Connect research.”

Sarah Tucker, a research associate at UPSI, said: “Working together with Dyfed Powys staff and officers we were able to listen to and understand the issues that affect them and their communities, creating an evidence base to inform future decision making.”

Rural Connect report author Kate Williams, senior lecturer in criminology at Aberystwyth University and deputy director of the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice, said: “Working in partnership with Dyfed-Powys staff we were able to learn that both the police and the people in rural communities cherished a positive working relationship.

“With decision-making based on an understanding of local needs, the trust between police and rural communities would build and the connection would strengthen.”

Other research just published on behalf of Mr Salmon includes an UPSI study into research literature on rural policing.

Rural Connect Report
Commissioner’s full response to the report
Aberystwyth University Criminology