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Only 15 per cent of Norfolk residents that were eligible to vote for the county’s first police and crime commissioner actually bothered to go out and do so. That of course means that the elected candidate, Mr Stephen Bett, has no mandate from 85 per cent of Norfolk’s voters. Not a good start.
This must rank as the most poorly executed election in the UK’s history. Lack of information to the public, poor communication by candidates, the unhelpful politicisation of the process, and no public consultation by the government before going ahead, were, I would suggest, the main reasons for the apparent apathy of voters.
As the successful candidate happily punched the air (understandable with an income of £70,000 a year to look forward to), why didn’t I feel optimistic about the future for policing in Norfolk?
Mr Bett has previously served as Chairman of the Norfolk Police Authority and was a member of the authority for several years. He trumpeted this as a great advantage as he already has a working relationship with the Chief Constable. I am sure that the Chief Constable was greatly relieved at the election result and would agree with that – better the devil you know of course.
Will Mr Bett’s previous experience prove to be an advantage to us, the taxpayers of Norfolk? I doubt it somehow. I would have preferred a candidate with no previous knowledge of police administration. The ideal would have been an individual with some experience of active policing with a firm agenda to introduce badly needed change, with strong views about effective law enforcement, getting police constables back on the streets, cutting the number of office-bound roles and solid opinions about how policing in the County should move forward over the next four years.
We often hear that Norfolk is one of the safest places to live in the country. That may well be true, however, do not accept that on the basis of crime statistics alone. They have long been a fallacy, not only in Norfolk but also in the whole of the UK. As the police have gradually disappeared from our streets over the last ten years or so and reports of burglary have resulted in the issuing of a crime number rather than a full police investigation, members of the public have taken the view that to report minor crime is a waste of time. The way in which crime statistics are recorded has always been flawed. Note that the announcements can only relate to “recorded” crime when hundreds of thousands of crimes are never reported or do not come to the notice of the police. Can we really believe that UK crime is steadily decreasing at a time of economic recession, falling incomes and declining living standards. If you believe that you probably also believe in the tooth fairy.
Get police officers back on the streets
The public clamour for a visible police presence on the streets of Norfolk has been consistently ignored for years. The sight of a patrolling but virtually powerless police community support officer (PCSO) does not reassure the residents of Norfolk’s towns. It is the cheaper option but you do get what you pay for.
Everything must change but it is not always for the better. Prior to the amalgamation of the Norfolk County Constabulary, Great Yarmouth Borough and the Norwich City police force in 1968, the rural areas of Norfolk had police houses in one out of four or five villages. The constables working there were a part of the police strength in the nearest town.
At the time of amalgamation a typical Norfolk market town had a complement of as many as 20 police constables, a detective constable, two sergeants and an inspector. Similar numbers applied in all the main towns of the County. Foot patrol officers worked eight hour shifts and there was a uniform presence in the towns from early morning until the early hours of the next morning. These were supplemented by mobile patrols. Bearing in mind that the force now has hundreds more staff than it did then, the question must be asked – where are they all?
Some history of Norfolk policing
Since those very effective days of Norfolk policing we have seen patrol officers gradually removed from our streets. The powers that be embarked on their experiments with Policing by Objectives and Unit Beat Policing, measures that would never replace an independent officer walking the beat and acting on his or her own initiative.
Getting to know the community and constantly increasing local knowledge should be the main priority for a police force to effectively prevent and detect crime. When you put a police officer in a car and control his actions by sending him radio messages, he merely becomes a responder after the event. The deterrent effect of the uniform presence is completely lost and local knowledge is eroded.
We must all wish Mr Bett good luck in his new role. On a day-to-day basis I think that he will find the majority of his time is taken up with committee meetings, managing the budget and general administration work. His influence on the daily workings of the Norfolk Constabulary will be negligible, as will his success at pushing through any changes that he would like to make. It seems likely that all we can realistically expect is more of the same.
This post obviously seemed very attractive to those that put themselves forward for election. I wonder if after 12 months in office Mr Bett will feel that the job is quite what he had hoped it would be? There is also the media attention to be considered when something goes wrong – the buck will stop with you Mr Bett.