Police complaints: Dyfed-Powys PCC promises more public scrutiny

Christopher Salmon says he wants to restore public trust in the police

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A police and crime commissioner says he wants to open up his force's complaints procedure to increased public scrutiny.

Christopher Salmon from Dyfed-Powys said it could help restore trust in the police following the "plebgate" affair.

Officers in London deny lying about an encounter with UK government chief whip Andrew Mitchell to force him to quit.

Mr Salmon said having an independent panel of volunteers who would check the complaints have been dealt with fairly would help restore trust in the police.

The "plebgate" row has been going on since Mr Mitchell, then chief whip, was accused last September of calling officers "plebs" after they refused to let him ride his bicycle through Downing Street's main gates.

Mr Mitchell insists that he did not use the word "pleb", and that he gave a full account of the incident in a meeting three weeks later with three officers acting for the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file police.

Those officers have been accused of giving a misleading account of the meeting by saying Mr Mitchell refused to elaborate on the Downing Street incident. He later resigned over the furore, prompting supporters to call for increased police accountability.

'Corrosive'

As Mr Salmon nears the end of his first year in the job of commissioner, he told the BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme that he wanted to boost trust in his own force area.

Start Quote

What we really want to do is stop cases becoming serious and nip them in the bud”

End Quote Christopher Salmon Dyfed-Powys PCC

"The whole plebgate row, complicated as it seems, has focused attention on one relatively straightforward issue - whether or not the public trust the police," he said.

"It is a very small number of people we're talking about here, but this is the thing about trust - when you lose it it's very corrosive, which is why I think it's so important that those of us involved in the leadership of policing to, if you like, face up to the 'elephant in the room' and to address the problem where we see it.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to say it's all fine in my patch, it's ok, and I think in 99.9% of the time that is true, but where there is a problem we have a duty to stand up and say we're going to deal with this."

The handling of phone-hacking and the Hillsborough disaster have also raised concerns over police integrity.

Home Secretary Theresa May is introducing a new behavioural code for officers and increasing the Independent Police Complaints Commission's powers to investigate the most serious complaints.

Mr Salmon wants to open up to the public the way the other complaints are handled, so people can see they are dealt with fairly.

"What we really want to do is stop cases becoming serious and nip them in the bud," he said.

Police cameras

"And that, I think, we can do by introducing greater independence at a local level.

"There are some quite interesting models around the country with different police and crime commissioners who are trying different ways of doing this.

"One in Avon and Somerset is a residents' panel of people who volunteer to look at how complaints have been adjudicated, there's a different model in Wiltshire and a different one in Greater Manchester.

"I'm going to be the best magpie I can and steal the ideas, where I can, for Dyfed-Powys."

Police 'body cam' Some UK police forces have trialled the wearing of video cameras

One suggestion has been for police officers to carry video cameras to record dealings with the public.

In Realto, California, such a policy is reported to have cut complaints by almost 90% and incidents in which officers used force by 60%.

Closer to home, Hampshire police have issued cameras to 450 officers, and widespread trials across England and Wales are planned.

They are backed by Monmouth Conservative MP and special constable David Davies, who is keen to emphasise the strengths of British policing.

Cutting crime

"It's incumbent on all police officers to behave correctly at all times," he said.

"I believe the vast majority of them do so, and I work with police officers as a special constable, I know what a great job they generally do.

"On this occasion a small number, clearly, have let down the good image that policing has.

"Across the rest of the world British policing has a tremendously good reputation, and I think we're held up as being one of the best police forces in the world, and one of the very few in fact who don't carry firearms and I'm very proud of that and I want that to continue."

Mr Davies' view is endorsed by Vale of Clwyd Labour MP Chris Ruane, one of those taking evidence on the "plebgate" affair last week.

"We're having excellent results here in Wales and cutting back crime," he said.

"I've had the crime statistics for my own constituency where in some wards it's gone down by 25%, so we're doing an excellent job.

"I think incidents like this distract from the good work that the police are doing...in difficult times of 20% cuts the police are doing an excellent job with limited funds and I trust them."

The headline crime figure for England and Wales is now the lowest recorded since the survey began back in 1981.

Yet following "plebgate", one in four people told a survey for the BBC they were now less likely to trust the police.

Sunday Politics Wales is on BBC One Wales at 11:45 GMT on Sunday, 27 October.

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