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David Jones: A Police Force for the People

Speech by David Jones, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Clwyd West to Welsh Conservatives Spring Conference 2004

"A few days ago, I spoke to a shopkeeper who runs a business with his sister in a small North Wales town not very far from this conference hall.

He told me that, only a couple of weeks ago, his sister, all 5ft 2 ins and seven stone of her, was alone in the shop, when a man entered, walked up to the counter, pulled a mask over his face, pointed a semi-automatic handgun at her, and told her to "get down".

Showing immense courage, the young lady ran to call the police.

The gunman, who thankfully by then had panicked, smashed a display case, grabbed a small quantity of stock and left.

The shopkeeper later wrote to me to say: "When firearms are brandished in such a backwater as this, and such risk is taken by criminals for so little reward, one has to wonder if running a business is worth all the aggravation, security expense and personal danger".

This is an important debate: anyone who speaks regularly to voters will know that, overwhelmingly, their principal political concern is crime.

The fear and reality of crime have invaded every aspect of our lives, every community in our country.

We live in an age in which we are repeatedly reminded of our "rights".

Labour have enshrined our "rights" in our legal system through the Human Rights Act 1998, and now want to bounce us into a European Constitution which incorporates a Charter of Fundamental Rights.

But these are paper rights.

The most fundamental right of all, that of the citizen to go about his or her business without fear of crime, has been progressively eroded under Labour.

Do you remember Tony Blair's pledge to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime"?

I am sure you do.

And I am sure that that is a promise that Tony Blair would rather forget.

Because the truth is that, despite their no doubt good intentions, crime is on the increase under Labour.

When Michael Howard was Home Secretary, between 1993 and 1997, crime fell by over 900,000 offences per year.

But since Labour came to power, it has risen by 800,000 offences per year.

And even such apparently peaceful areas as North Wales have not escaped the rising tide of crime.

Last October's Home Office crime figures for the year 2002 -2003 showed a 33 per cent increase in house burglaries in North Wales - the worst in England and Wales, a 16 per cent rise in robberies and an 11 per cent decline in offences detected.

More than one house in a hundred was broken into in the year.

The consequence is that many of our town centres are now no-go areas for decent people after dark, our communities are plagued by bad behaviour and disfigured by graffiti and many people feel unsafe in their own homes.

Everybody agrees that something has to be done about the current levels of crime - Labour included.

The front line in the fight against crime is, of course, the police force.

The police deserve the respect of us all.

Every day, policemen and women put their lives on the line for us.

The police deserve our gratitude and, more importantly, our absolute, unquestioning support.

The truth is that we do not have enough police officers.

That is why I welcome the Conservative Party's pledge to appoint an extra 40,000 police officers, 5,000 per year, over 8 years in the next Conservative government.

People want to see more police on the streets, and I stress, on the streets, not more police in patrol cars and certainly not more standing behind speed cameras.

Nothing makes decent people feel more secure, or criminals less secure, than the sight of blue uniforms patrolling the streets of our cities, towns and villages.

That is what people want and that is what the Conservative Party will provide.

And putting more police officers out onto our streets means that they should be freed from bureaucratic, time-wasting form filling in police stations.

A particular complaint of the police is over the increasing administrative burden imposed on them by this government.

The introduction of measures such as the Human Rights Act into the British criminal system has made that burden considerably worse.

I recently spoke to a young police officer who told me that in order to deal with a simple case of shoplifting - one in which the thief pleaded guilty - he had to prepare a file half an inch thick.

If that sort of bureaucracy can be cut back, then more police officers can be out of the police stations, catching and deterring more criminals.

Another, senior police officer, told me of his despair at having to comply with the control-freak micro-management exercises so beloved of this government.

"Sometimes," he told me, "I feel as if I am undergoing a slow death by evaluation."

That, perhaps, says it all about New Labour.

They simply will not trust the professionals, in this case the police, to carry out their professional work without interference.

Conservatives will radically reduce the form-filling and trust the police to get on with the job for which they have been trained.

Just as we will empower doctors, nurses and teachers to make the right professional decisions, so we will empower the police.

It is a feature of a civilised, democratic society that people are policed by consent.

If that element of consent disappears, people become alienated from their police - in truth, they cease to be "their police" at all.

It is therefore vital that law-abiding people should feel that their communities are being policed in a way they approve of - in a way that they think is right.

And here I must mention North Wales Police.

Here we have a Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, who has a distinctive, not so say idiosyncratic, style of policing.

Chief Constable Brunstrom is, of course, a passionate advocate of speed cameras.

Under his leadership of the force, speed cameras are proliferating in North Wales and speed camera fines tripled last year.

The North Wales Magistrates Courts' Committee, which, wrongly I believe, is a member of the "Safety Camera Partnership" with the police, now has a large and growing special unit dedicated to processing speeding fines.

Mr Brunstrom is very hard line on speeding, so much so that he is quoted as saying that "there is no excuse for drifting over the limit any more than there is for drifting a knife into someone".

Pretty uncompromising stuff.

But if he is hard line on speeding, Mr Brunstrom has rather more liberal views on drugs.

In February this year, only a few days after cannabis was, to many people's concern, downgraded from a Class B to a Class C controlled drug, he appeared on a BBC Wales Dragon's Eye programme in which he appeared to advocate the legalisation of the supply of heroin.

Mr Brunstrom said:

"The question is actually not am I prepared to see the government, the state, selling heroin to users on the street corner or through the pharmacy, but why would we not want to do that, what is wrong with that? That is the question we should be asking.

"My answer is yes, unequivocally yes, that is what we should be doing, because our current policy is causing more harm than good. It is creating crime where one did not need to exist".

Now, I have no doubt that Mr Brunstrom is entirely sincere when he puts forward these views on drugs and really does believe that there should be a massive increase in speeding convictions.

He really does think that his proposals, if implemented, would be for the good of us all.

The problem is that, so far as I can see, very few people in North Wales agree with him.

Last summer, the Daily Post published, day after day, a stream of letters protesting at the Chief Constable's style of policing.

That criticism still continues, unabated.

In the North Wales Police website, Mr Brunstrom is quoted as saying that the thing he likes most about his job is: "the ability to make a difference personally and the power, of course".

There is no doubt that Mr Brunstrom does occupy a particularly powerful position.

And he is certainly doing his utmost to make a difference.

Mr Brunstrom is in effect pursuing a political agenda - not in the party political sense, but in the sense of seeking actively to change the law and putting forward radical policy proposals.

He is, however, pursuing that political agenda from his position of power without the benefit of a popular mandate.

Nobody ever voted for Chief Constable Brunstrom -he was appointed.

And he was appointed by a North Wales Police Authority that was itself appointed.

That is the way the system currently works.

Democracy never enters into the equation.

If a Chief Constable does not have the support of law-abiding people in the area he polices, the only consequence can be an increasing alienation of the public from the police.

I believe that alienation is developing in North Wales, and it is growing.

And that cannot be healthy, because, just as the public need the protection of the police, so the police need the support of the public.

At the 2003 Conference, the Conservative Party launched a consultation paper on community policing.

The paper was based on the proposition that policing should become more localised and that voters should have the right to elect their own police authorities.

I believe that that the people of North Wales would welcome an elected police authority.

The police authority would have the right - and the responsibility - to reflect the concerns of voters in setting the policing agenda in their force area.

At the same time, the operational independence of Chief Constables would be preserved and guaranteed.

This would be a healthy development, both in terms of local democracy and in terms of restoring public support for the police

Policing, I repeat, should be consensual process.

The election of police authorities would go a long way towards restoring the trust that once existed, unquestioningly, between police and public, but which has been eroded over recent years.

The Conservative Party is determined to ensure that there are more police officers on the streets of our cities, towns and villages, destroying the no go areas and reversing the tide of crime.

It is determined to give people the power to elect their police authorities, to give people a real say in the way that they are policed.

Labour has had its chance on policing and has failed.

I believe that at the next election the voters of Wales will turn in increasing numbers to the Conservative Party, as the only party with the determination and ideas to defeat the criminals.

To give us back our communities.

To rebuild a police force for the people."

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