Monday 26 September 2011

Law and Order, Major Incidents and PR

And, as the Letter to the Carmarthenites (from St Meryl's Good News Bible) might say, the greatest of these is PR.

The Carmarthen Journal this week carried a report this week on the official opening of the new multi-million pound Strategic Co-ordination Centre at Dyfed Powys Police headquarters near Carmarthen. The new centre is one of three in Wales, the others being located in Cardiff and Colwyn Bay.

As noted previously, the opening of the new centre was delayed by nearly six months with no explanation given, and as you might expect, the event was attended by the Great and Good, including First Minister Carwyn Jones.

Justifications for the very expensive new facility, which has been built to co-ordinate the activities of police, fire, ambulance and other agencies in the event of a major emergency, remain unconvincing, and as has been reported before, even the architects diplomatically wondered how much use the new building would get.

Major civil emergencies in the Dyfed Powys Police area fortunately remain extremely rare events, and like the reporting of crime statistics, a great deal depends on how an incident is classified. Let's hope that we don't see a surge in the number of major incidents over the next few years as a way of justifying the cost of the new centre. Perish that cynical thought.

When not fulfilling its purpose as a co-ordination centre (i.e. nearly all of the time), the new facility will be used for training.

Chief Constable Ian Arundale said that previously one of the logistical problems had been the need to bring together all of the IT equipment needed when setting up a major incident room. Well, perhaps. Rather less convincing was his attempt to use the threat of terrorism as a justification, when he said that hydrogen peroxide had been purchased in Carmarthenshire by people plotting to blow up transatlantic flights in 2006.

How would the new centre have made an iota of difference? Would it have prevented the purchase of the chemicals? No. Would it have led to earlier detection? No, given that the centre's reported purpose is to deal with co-ordinating a response to events which, almost inevitably, will already have happened.

This is the same mindset that brought us proposals for 90-day detention without charge, countless other assaults on civil liberties and an orgy of empire building by men in uniforms.

Meanwhile, Dyfed Powys Police reported this week that the number of reported crimes in its area had shown a marked increase, although detection rates had also risen. In the Carmarthen Journal's report (which seems not to be available online), you might have expected the Chief Constable to have something to say about this. Instead, we were treated to an interview on the subject with Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. Showing us once again his polished PR skills, Mr James went to town on the improved detection rates, and praised the police for being so good at solving crime, somehow overlooking the other half of the equation that the amount of crime has been rising as well.

One of the county council's initiatives involves working with the police to try to reduce crime, so you might think an increase in crime would be seen as a set-back rather than a cause for congratulations.

You might also wonder why our unelected council chief executive was the official mouthpiece, rather than the Chief Constable; and why our elected representatives appeared to have nothing to say.

Compare and contrast the recent scandal over child protection in Pembrokeshire, where the chief executive appeared to have gone into hiding in a Trappist monastery, leaving his elected councillors to step nervously in front of the microphones.

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