Police and Crime commissioner debate

The 4 candidates for the role of Cheshire Police and crime commissioner took part in a debate at the Town hall last week. Few attended, with public apathy and lack of understanding of the role high. In attendance were:

John Dwyer – Conservative party. The current commissioner. See interview at

https://thechesterblog.com/2016/04/17/a-chat-with-the-police-commissioner/

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David Keane – Labour (link now removed)

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Neil Lewis – Liberal Democrat

Cyber  crime expert interviewed here: https://thechesterblog.com/2016/03/10/neil-lewis-would-like-to-be-police-commissioner/

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Jonathan Starkey – UKIP

A concert pianist and musical genius details here:  https://ukipepn.wordpress.com/

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Questions were submitted from audience members:

How does the party you’re standing for affect your approach to the PCC role ?

David Keane- the party I’m standing for is the Labour party. We’re standing up for public services, against cuts. We’d like to see taxes spent on public services, and we’d like to see police numbers protected. The figures dropped by 241 officers  between 2010 and 2015. Over 18,ooo police nationally have been cut while certain types of crime have soared. As a personal individual I want to help tackle that, we want to see a return to neighbourhood policing.

Neil Lewis- I’m trying to think of some way I have been constricted by being a member of the Liberal Democrats and I can’t think of anything. I joined the Liberal Democrats because of my values, we stand for evidence based everything, not just policing. If theres evidence we will look at it, and if theres a better way of doing thing’s we’ll look at it.. I’m only really interested in what works, and what works for people, not big organisations. Its about putting people first, and I believe the commissioners role is to get out there and connect. We’re not ideologically driven.

Jonathan Starkey  : UKIP quite clearly state, “whatever it is that works for your area, that is what you do…” So that actually means that I don’t have any restrictions. I do what is best for the people in the area. I’m not sure that the others can say that they dont work under any restrictions. If any of the parties did win this election they would have to tow the party line. And we all know that the party lines are not good for the people. UKIP stand for the people and that’s what they have always done.

John Dwyer– Can I express some concern and sorrow for David and for Neil. David’s party until the election of last May were determined to get rid of the commissioner role. Neil’s party is still determined to get rid of Police and crime commissioners. Its a difficult situation so I do feel sorry for them. From my point of view when I was selected for my first term of office. I said to a room of 200 Conservative activitsts, “if you’re looking for someone to tow the party line, you’re looking at the wrong person. What I will do is the most appropriate course of action for the residents of Cheshire”  I can tell you that, that group of activists gave me their resounding support. I have not towed the party line and have been in conflict with senior Cabinet people over that. Jonathan’s out of order saying that we would have to tow the party line because I have evidence that we don’t and I certainly haven’t done

Jonathan Starkey : the police grants are decreasing. That leaves Cheshire police with no other option but to force the precept up in order to maintain the services that they have. If that is not towing the party line, then what is ?

John Dwyer :But that applies to any PCC, no matter what the party is. The point is that every PCC will have to raise the precept by 2% in order to maintain the service. You have no choice in the matter, that’s a done deal.

Neil Lewis : Its true, I have learn that 4 years ago the Liberal Democrats were not in favour of the PCC. The concern was that it would just be ex police officers who stepped in after retirement. Frankly I think John’s done a decent job. The opportunity as Liberals to bring politics to a local level , and use that transferable vote to encourage candidates to the centre. I haven’t felt any resistance to me standing. John is right about the past but not about the future.

Residents are always asking for more bobbies on the beat. What are your views and how would you finance this ?

Neil Lewis – I think the first thing to say is that as PCC, whoever you elect, will have around £192 million a year, the question there for is not how many police there is going to be, but how will you use that resource? The Chief constable has the operational responsibility , but as the commissioner I can set the objectives. I want each of your police officers allocated to the wards in Cheshire to be recognisable either by name, or by face. The second step is that the tablets enable the police to be embedded in the community. Previously they would have to do their paperwork in the station. Looking at how to get more time on the beat is the issue. I will publish the amount of time that the police spend in your ward.

Jonathan Starkey – there are 41 commissioners in this country. They are all supposed to chat with the home secretary on a regular basis. If 41 commissioners sit back and say “that’s fine”  Then they are wrong. It has to be more resource. It doesn’t matter how many things you bring in, more people will cost more money. I don’t see why the commissioners cant sit down and lobby the government , so why settle for it ? Rather than take the £75.000 salary , I would do it for £50,000 and give £25,000 back to policing. Neil, has said that he would take the full salary. I would go in there and fight for more money.

John Dwyer – I think that Jonathan’s idea of giving £25,000 to front line policing is absolutely brilliant.. its going to make a real impact isn’t it…I’m not going to do it. This is a full time job, 12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. This is good value for money. What I have done, is not lobby for money, but ensured that the Cheshire constabulary is running efficiently. It was a root and branch review, which was about finding where we were spending money and if we had the right specifications of kit. As a result of the savings we have reinvested that money into front line policing, that’s where I have been able to grow the constabulary by 53 officers last year, by 70 further officers this year. Its about making sure what we are doing is value for money.

David Keane – bobbies on the beat, lets be open and lets be sustainable. Whar John has said sounds quite good at election time, but if we take ourselves back to 2010 with 2155 officers, 30 million pounds worth of cuts later we’ve got 1914… 241 less. Another 20 million pounds of cuts over the next few years, and after John has cut them as a Tory police crime and commissioner… delivering Tory government cuts. I just don’t believe its a sustainable or honest way to take that debate. We will not settle for these dangerous cuts to public services. There are others areas you can make savings from, and they can be collaborations. I know John has said he hasn’t closed any police stations, but that’s a turn of phrase. We have police stations that aren’t fully operational, so can we put that money back into police officers.

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David Keane and Neil Lewis

How can the problem of drugs in Chester be tackled effectively ?

Jonathan Starkey – its a problem that affects all the areas.  I personally know about drugs issues in Ellesmere port. There’s a fine line between containment and trying to alleviate the suffering that it causes to residents. I know that residents in central Ellesmere port have complained bitterly, until it got to a certain pressure point and something was done. The pain and suffering it causes is immense. My answer is attention.

John Dwyer – I cant disagree with what Jonathan is saying. It is an issue for Cheshire and the country as a whole. It isn’t going to go away, there are big organised crime groups behind it. They’re also involved with human trafficking, in slavery. We have uncovered a number of cannabis farms, that have resulted in the discovery of people from Vietnam and other parts of the world, who are there as slaves. Its a part of Cheshire that most people don’t recognise but it is there. Its being dealt with as and when its been identified by the police. There’s no easy solution but it will be focused upon.

David Keane:  I would agree that Cheshire police are doing a fabulous job on the war on drugs. We’ve seen several examples of Cheshire police dealing with drug dealers coming in from Liverpool and Manchester. I know there was a huge drugs bust in a pub in Warrington, which was very well organised and will hopefully put some dangerous criminals behind bars for some time. There are lots of criminal issues out there that we need to hear the publics view on, and which part of the drugs problem do we need to challenge ? We need to prioritise in a public view.

Neil Lewis : When you talk about drugs, you are talking about network crime, so anything that can be filtered through a network. The police have had success in Chester in terms of tackling legal highs and were the first police service to do that. I agree with that, they are getting those items out of our general day. There’s only a limit to how far the law will go. Another one is alcohol. I was at the Night Church on Saturday night. I got an email when I woke up saying that after I left there was a huge brawl in Chester and there was  drugs overdose by the station. I think there’s something about the late nights and I want to bring in the late night levym after a certain point. whoever is serving alcohol, they have to pay more. That will reduce the harm we see. We’re not going to exclude it but we can put an economic cost to it.

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How will the candidates ensure the police are accessible to local communities ?

John Dwyer : In the three and a half years I’ve been in. that’s exactly what’s been happening. The Chief constable has already started allocating PCs. PCSOs and indeed special constables to every ward in the borough. In that sense that link is already there and we’re already building on it. The fact that the constabulary received an outstanding accreditation last autumn indicates how successful that has been. But there’s more to be done.

David Keane – I agree that Cheshire are outstanding in many areas, but certainly not all. Every community needs to have a local officer with a base inside that community. I have some concerns with the current model of centralisation. One can lose a quarter of one’s policing shift by having to go to a central point and then having to go out and come back at the end. Its something I am keen to look into. One of my real pushes is to give the public the accountability of their local officer, so you know their name, you know their face, you feel you have a relationship.. Its a relationship where you feel safe, and theres a feedback in , which connects the police to the community. I’d like to strengthen that and make that knowledge stronger.

Neil Lewis – you’ve heard me talking about embedding community police.  What our customers want , is that we want to know your name and what you look like.. delivering that in any customer service environment is challenging. Its focus so we measure something, and when we sit down with our performance reports we can see how well we are doing. If you know someone by name, you feel comfortable with them and that’s what we want. Our officers need to be seen, and they are starting to raise their profile on twitter and facebook but we have a long way to go. That’s where young people are spending a lot of their time and connecting.

Jonathan Starkey – when I was young  if I had to go to the doctor  I saw the same doctor year after year, and that doctor came to know me. So he came to know you, and he came to be a friend of the family. Nowadays the consistency of police on your ward is not what it needs to be. It needs to be a situation where the police know the community and the people there. I’m someone just like you, I’m a client of Cheshire police, I don’t know all those police officers. Its that personal knowledge of the ward that acts at the intelligence.

Will the candidates please explain their policy for how they care for victims and victim support ?

Neil Lewis – the police commissioner has a particular role in delivering victim services. There is money that comes from the Ministry of Justice in order to deliver restorative justice as well. I think that treating victims well, is very important. We have a lot of services that we are engaged with, there are about 30-40 agencies that we’re involved with. I think understanding what it’s like to be a victim is important.. what matters is the way the victim feels. I have met with a lot of the senior police team and I’ve felt comfortable that people leading the paedophile units. are people I would trust. Its about ensuring that victims and witnesses have as good an experience as possible.

Jonathan Starkey – I have personal experience of helping a witness , getting them to court and to liase with the police because the witness did not trust the police. They had to be supported. The police were very good and the attention to the detail with the witness and the victim’s family was superb..I can’t say that I would actually change too much of what is going on, I would just say “keep it up”.

David Keane – for me victim support is the central element of what the criminal justice system is all about.It should be working to find an outcome for that victim, from the very start to the very end. You can’t pay lip service, its not just an arm around someone’s shoulder, though that is important.. the best thing you can do for a victim is police properly.. that you get the required evidence to solve that crime. If you look at the court system we have now, I believe its getting harder for victims.  A lot of crime is being reported, investigated, have we got enough time to work through them all properly, giving that full support the whole way. And then when you get to the CPS, court stage, if your local court is shut down, as a victim you’re potentially travelling 30-40 miles. We need to pay much more than lip service, it should be the central part of the system.

John Dwyer – let me tell you what I’ve done in post. We started off using Victim Support, but last year we were able to commission a brand new service called Cheshire Cares. This is an independent body which is there to support victims. This is whether or not they have reported the crime to the police, and there are certain crimes that people will not report.They still need support to see them through the trauma. The restorative justice is spinning out of that as well , and in 2015, the Cheshire constabulary won an award for the work they had been doing in that arena. I have found that some victims familiarise themselves with a court, and then almost at the drop of a hat, the court dates change, the courts change. As a result of that I have been discussing with the CPS and the court service that we have some stability for these people.

John Dwyer has said he has closed no police stations. But he has cut their hours. If the report that Chester town hall station is to close at night is true, how do you plan to maintain the current high level of police presence ?

John Dwyer – the police station is still there. What I am doing is undertaking a review of the amount of hours we spend on our front desk of all our stations across the county. I’m conscious there is a mish mash of arrangements. I am in the game of ensuring that the facilities are there for the community to tap into

David Keane -What I talked about was co location and collaboration. If you have the police station in the same place as a fire station.

John Dwyer – well that’s what we are doing ! What gives me great pleasure is that these candidates we are fighting are coming up with the policies I’ve already done.

David Keane – I think those bases are important. My concern is, I visited Frodsham and Helsby this morning, the police station hadn’t been open for a while, but they had a touch screen device on the wall.. residents were saying it isn’t what we wanted. They have a local fire station and they are keen on having local facilities and knowing where to go if they need a police officer. It can be intimidating to report a crime, if police were located in a community building, we would feel more comfortable.

Neil Lewis – what people care about are response times and police presence.  I differ from John in our values, and one fundamental issue is transparency. I will publish everything that I do, I will show you the information so you can hold me to account. You have  a choice of someone who is steeped in police culture, and I’m not. I don’t have a vested interest.

Jonathan Starkey – I like police stations to be open and I like people to be able to access them. It is a place that people would go from a point of view, I doubt I would do things differently.

Summing up

Neil Lewis – the key thing is we need to explode the myth that crime is falling, its not. Crime is not falling its changing users have gone behind closed doors. Scammers and fraudsters do it via the internet, and crime is globalised. For every physical burglary there are two online. There’s a reason that I go on about cyber crime, its because that’s where most crime is. You are going to be asked not to rock the boat, its not the residents, its the tsunami of cyber crime that is going to sink us.  The things that are coming out of youth generation, in terms of peer on peer child sex exploitation, those problems will hit us, because that’s where we get anti social behaviour. Crime has changed, the police are changing, its time to change the commissioner.

David Keane – I’m a local family man that genuinely cares about your safety as much as I do about my own and my own family. I’ve got 17 years of listening and representing local people, and delivering results at all levels in the privat, public and voluntary sector. Having said that I dont think I am part of the police establishment and I am willing to get in there and ask the difficult questions in a sensitive , but a passionate and committed way. I won’t give up on my residents and I won’t give up on public services.

John Dwyer – I have been doing the job for three and a half years. I can tell you, that crime is down, despite what Neil has been telling you. I accept fully that there is now a cyber issue, Neil seems to think it has suddenly appeared, but in every police and crime plan, its been an issue. We have cyber experts, not only in the constabulary but across the country. Anti social behaviour is down, detection is up, we have been given an accreditation of “outstanding” by HM Inspectorate . This has been driven by me, allegedly an insider, I have been retired for 14 years I am hardly an insider am I. I’ve been driving difficult agenda items with the chief constable , driving them to fantastic performance. I want to build on that , give me another four years.

Jonathan Starkey . Six policies simple. To report all crime and to improve the ease of reporting . To be visible, responsible and alert to the communities I serve. To invest in locally appropriate initiatives including zero tolerance. To incorporate cost effective introduction of new technology. To ensure more representation of the community on key policy issues, and to ensure better communication between the people and the police. And to guarantee transparency and scrutiny through accountability and performance reporting of the police, in compliance with a locally agreed police and crime plan. The unofficial side is – I’m like you. I want to bring policing back to the community. You do have an important choice and I have told you I will reduce my salary. A vote for me is a vote for transparency, accountability and a great deal of common sense.

The election is on the 5th May

 

 

 

 

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