New Norfolk police commissioner sets out future vision on first day in job
More visible policing, tougher sentences for assaults on emergency workers and hard early decisions are all on the agenda for Norfolk’s next police and crime commissioner as he takes up the role.
Giles Orpen-Smellie will be formally sworn in today, following his victory in last Thursday’s election.
And, while he has been setting out his vision for the future of policing, he faces a major decision early in his tenure about who should replace the force’s retiring chief constable, Simon Bailey.
“Simon Bailey has done a great job, I’m sad he’s going, but he’s decided that it’s time to move on,” Mr Orpen-Smellie said.
“Selecting Simon’s replacement is probably the most important decision I will make in the next three years – get the leadership right, everything falls into place, get it wrong then things will begin to unravel.”
In selecting the next chief, the most important thing will be selecting someone he could work with, Mr Orpen-Smellie said.
“One thing you do not need is the Chief Constable and the PCC bickering amongst themselves – we’ve got to be working together.
“That’s not to say we agree on everything, I’m a great believer that the Chief Constable should feel free to challenge me in my views and I should feel free to challenge the Chief Constable.
“I don’t want a yes man or yes woman, but at the same time, I don’t need someone who’s going to constantly disagree.”
Setting out his top priorities for the role, Mr Orpen-Smellie said he first has to write a police and crime plan, which will tailor government policy into a “bespoke Norfolk solution”.
Another issue he aims to tackle is police funding, hoping to see police services given multi-year funding settlements from the government, he said: “One of the problems that police have had over recent years is that they’ve only had one-year settlements.
“We’re hopeful that we will get a proper, three-year settlement this year.”
He added that this will then feed into decisions about the police precept, a levy attached to council tax to help fund the police.
“It’s gone up a lot in recent years,” he said.
“I’m mindful of that and I want to look hard at it. But obviously, I’ve got to look at it in the round, alongside the comprehensive spending review.
“We need to ask: what do the police need to keep the county safe? What is the public willing to pay to keep the county safe? So, I will need to run a consultation exercise with the public to find out their views.”
Going forward he wants to set out a vision for what policing in Norfolk will be like in ten years.
“One big example is that the government has set a major target for carbon neutrality by 2030, what does that mean for policing? What is green policing going to look like?
“And also, what will crime look like in 2030.
“In the last 30 years burglary rates across this country have fallen by 70pc, but in the same time the internet has gone live where a huge amount of crime now goes on.”
While cybercrime is on the rise, Mr Orpen-Smellie said the public wants to see more “Bobbies on the beat”, describing police presence as “reassuring”.
“[The public] don’t associate an absence of crime as being kept safer, but they associated the absence of police officers as being less safe.
“The police, meanwhile, are working flat out on all this hidden crime. It’s not just cybercrime, there’s domestic abuse, there are county lines drugs, a whole raft of other forms of crime that go on behind closed doors.”
Despite identifying it as an area of concern, Mr Orpen-Smellie did not feel the gap would be closed completely, largely because of a lack of resources.
Asked if PCSOs – which were scrapped in Norfolk under Simon Bailey and former PCC Lorne Green – should make a return, Mr Orpen-Smellie said was a difficult decision, that was right at the time.
“However, with the benefits of time, there has been what I’ll describe as a little bit of collateral damage.
“The police have been working back up to the numbers of police officers they would like to have, there have been some gaps in the neighbourhood policing capability.
“And because of PCSOs being withdrawn there has been a slight loss of communication between the police and public.”
Mr Orpen-Smellie illustrated this by pointing to Safer Neighbourhood Action plan meetings, where PCSOs had been regular attendees but police are often too busy to attend, breaking down the public connection.
While not against bringing back PCSOs, he said they are more expensive than a probationary police officer and not much cheaper than a fully trained officer, so would rather use the money to employ more police constables.
Throughout the pandemic there have been reports of police officers and emergency workers being spat at by people claiming to have Covid, Mr Orpen-Smellie said he will be lobbying the home secretary to go further on assaults on emergency workers.
“In 2019-20, the figures given in the PCC’s last annual report, Norfolk had 1,500 police officers, 659 – 42pc of them – were assaulted in the year and 127 of them – 8pc – required A&E treatment.
“Would you go to work if you were to be assaulted in the course of your work? No one goes to work expecting to get hurt.”
Looking for the source of the issue, Mr Orpen-Smellie suspected issues could stem from the night-time economy or a breakdown of respect for law and order.
“I believe we’ve got to put in sanctions of sufficient strength that people will think twice before they throw a punch at a police officer.
“To me it’s unacceptable, I’m delighted that the Home Secretary is doubling the prison sentence.
“I hope that magistrates will refer more cases to the Crown Court so that those sentences can be used. I’m concerned that too many of those cases are being dealt with at magistrates’ levels.
“I would like to see more people facing the force of the law and I would like more people in public to think about that.”
Police officers often have to take on a broad role, acting as a first responder in a crisis, Mr Orpen-Smellie said better connections are needed between various services to help people in distress.
He argued that a police cell was not the right place to hold someone suffering from dementia or suicidal people, and instead the police needed to be able to get them the support they need.
On tackling crime, Mr Orpen-Smellie said the police need to tackle the underlying causes, he said: “The police cannot arrest their way to solutions to deeper societal issues, we’ve got to identify the causes.
“Lots of people have said to me on my campaign trail ‘why don’t the police arrest all the beggars that are out in the city centres?’
“What difference is that going to make? What we’ve got to do is identify the causes of homelessness.”