Commissioners Community Walkabout: Tredegar
The best way to find out how the public feel about policing and crime is to go out there and meet them face to face and my Community Walkabout initiative provides me with a golden opportunity to do just that.
My morning walkabout took me on patrol around the town centre and the Cefn Golau housing estate with local Police Constables Andy Jenkins, Ceri Mcdermott and Stephen Connelly. We were joined by two local councillors, John Morgan and Hayden Trollope - two individuals who raised concerns about policing in Tredegar in the past but now vouch for a significant improvement in the relationship between the police and the community.
So how have Gwent Police managed to improve links and address some of those concerns despite the significant challenges we face in maintaining a visible presence of frontline officers in these times of austerity?
The answer is plain and simple - increased communication. "It's not rocket science it's just about enhancing communication with the public and listening to them", said PC Andy Jenkins, who explained to me how officers have been working much closer with businesses, members of the public and community organisations in Tredegar. As a result, people now have more confidence in reporting crimes and the police are receiving more intelligence from the public.
I was informed by PC Jenkins that the last ten warrants they had issued had been a resounding success and that this was a direct result of vital information they had received from the public. The Force is working closer with the community and the community in return are informing them of what's going on which is providing them with some of their positive results. This is also supported by a cultural shift within Gwent Police in the last 12 - 18 months which is giving officers the confidence to report crime as they should.
Drug related crime and problems with anti-social behaviour are problematic for many of our communities and are a community concern in parts of Tredegar - in particular the use of new psychoactive substances such as mephedrone (commonly known as Meow).
John Morgan was among the local Councillors who approached the Police about eighteen months ago to highlight the problems they had specifically with substance abuse in the community. Since then, communication between the Police and the community has dramatically improved according to Mr Morgan. "Their attitude has completely changed, resulting in a larger number of drug raids and a larger number of successful prosecutions", he explained.
Our first stop on the walkabout was the Cambrian Inn on Castle Street where we met 19 year old Pub Manager, Lauren Williams. Drug abuse has now replaced heavy drinking and fighting as one of the biggest problems in the community according to Lauren. The Cambrian Inn operates a strict anti-drugs policy and if you're caught once with drugs in there - you're banned for life. Like most people I speak to in the community, Lauren would like to see more Officers on the street in the evenings and on weekends. The response time from the Police isn't always what she would expect either. However Lauren also understood that the police are facing the same budget cuts as everyone else and she understood that providing a visible presence amid ongoing austerity is one of the biggest challenges we face.
This is why I want officers to spend less time in police stations and more time out on the beat in the communities they serve. And this is why I recently approved plans to redeploy fifteen Police Officers and five Police Sergeants currently working in Custody Units back out on the beat in the community.
After speaking to a number of businesses on the High Street in Tredegar, my next stop was the Cefn Golau housing estate which sits on the hill overlooking the town. According to Councillor Hayden Trollope, who lives on the estate, people lost their faith in the Police many years ago but all that's changed now because they're seeing for themselves that the Police are being more proactive and, more importantly - they are getting results.
One person on the estate who can vouch for the support and the quality of service she received from Gwent Police is Sian Hamblin. Tragically, her 26 year old son, Julian, took his own life in March last year. PC Stephen Connelly, one of the Police Officers on patrol with us that day, was assigned as their Family Liaison Officer. "The support we had from PC Connelly and the other Officers was tremendous and I have always found the Police very quick to respond when I have had dealings with them in the past", she said. Many people are quick to judge the Police so it was pleasing to hear a member of the public praising the support they received from our officers in their time of greatest need.
At the Cefn Golau Tenants and Residents Association, I met with numerous members of the public and the Tai Calon Community Housing Neighbourhood Manager, Darrell Dewar. According to Darrell, the relationship with the Police has improved on the estate due to a larger number of patrols and more police surgeries. "We need to give the local Police credit for getting in amongst the community in the face of these cuts. Money is tight all round, especially on estates like this, so it's full credit to the Police for achieving what they have," he said.
My visit to Tredegar confirmed what I have always known - Gwent Police have some of the best officers and staff in the country and you could instantly see the passion they had for the vital job that they do in the community. You could also tell the officers knew the town well and that people knew who they were.
I'm not looking through rose tinted glasses here and I realise that we have a number of significant challenges ahead and a number of areas we have to improve upon. But public confidence in Gwent Police is on the up and the visit to Tredegar showed a snippet of that.
Communicating with the public and feedback from the public is vital where tackling crime is concerned. It's their feedback at the end of the day that helps me devise plans for keeping our communities safe. I want to put victims at the heart of everything we do and to make Gwent an even better place to live and work. In order to achieve that goal, I have to work closely with the Police, partners and the community at all levels.