My dispatches from the thin blue line
The roles and responsibilities of Britain's 52 chief constables are under scrutiny as never before. While the Soham Inquiry sparked a legal battle between David Blunkett and the head of the Humberside force, the announcement that Sir John Stevens is to retire as Commissioner of the Met has opened up a race for the profession's top job. But what, exactly, do our leading law enforcers do? We asked the country's most radical police chief, Richard Brunstrom, to keep a diary of a typical working week
Tuesday 20 July 2004
7am Like most days, Mr Brunstrom drives the few miles to his headquarters in the coastal resort town of Colwyn Bay. North Wales police is one of the country's smaller forces, in terms of officers, with about 1,700 uniformed men and women, but it covers a vast rural area, including Anglesey, Snowdonia and Colwyn Bay.
9am Drives to Wrexham, the force's largest town.
10am Holds a meeting with the leader and the chief executive of Wrexham council to discuss the progress being made towards the deployment of a beat officer for each of the region's 300 wards. So far they have about 150. "We believe it is crucial for communities to each have their own beat officer, to know the person who works in their neighbourhood," says Brunstrom. "We have been on this kick for two or three years now. The Government has just started to catch up."
11.30am Alcohol-fuelled violence and urinating in public are among the anti- social behaviour problems that Brunstrom addresses at the annual conference of community beat officers working in Wrexham and the surrounding areas. He gives a speech and takes questions from some 60 officers about the force's strategy, which goes under the title Dyna Ddijon - meaning "pack it in".
"We have a problem in Wrexham with people urinating on the street and in shop doorways," says Brunstrom. "They come out of the pubs and clubs and there are no public toilets open, so they urinate in public."
The solution, dreamt up by Inspector Chris Beasley, is to tow a glorified bucket and mop behind a police car and tell miscreants caught peeing in public to clear up their own mess or face arrest.
"They have to swill it down in front of their mates. We have had people cheering and clapping people in the street. It's been phenomenally successful. The public think its absolutely wonderful," says Brunstrom.
2pm A visit to a "car-crunching" demonstration at a scrap yard in south Wrexham. The event is a photo opportunity for local newspapers to highlight the police's initiatives in targeting cars illegally driven by boy racers. The police seize the car and, unless the owner pays a £120 fine, dispose of it - in this case by crushing it. "This gives quite a strong message: If you don't obey the law, we will get you," he says.
4pm Back to Wrexham to present a commendation certificate to the aforementioned Inspector Beasley for his leadership.
5.15pm Visit to a woman on a housing estate in Wrexham who has complained about the police treatment of her son. He speaks with her for 45 minutes but says that he believes the police acted properly: "We agreed to disagree, but she was very pleased I had taken the time to visit her in person."
7pm Public meeting at a theatre in Rhos, near Wrexham: "Rather like an audience with Tony Benn, but with a much smaller audience." About 50 people turn up to discuss local issues. The main topics are anti-social behaviour and the chief constable's views on drugs and speed cameras.
One of the major complaints that Brunstrom hears is the difficulty the public has in contacting police officers at night. Rather than getting their local officer they end up with someone 50 miles away. "They want local police stations open 24 hours a day. I say they could have that if local residents were prepared to volunteer to work on the front counter."
The meeting finishes at 10.30pm. Brunstrom is home by midnight.
7am In the office.
8.55am Brunstrom catches a train to London for a meeting at the Association of Chief Police Officers headquarters in central London. He travels second class. "I used to travel first class, but I decided it was a waste of money." He spends the four-hour journey doing work on his portable computer. Brunstrom gets about 50 emails a day - a lot of which he describes as "dross" - as well as letters and consultation documents from the Government.
2pm Chief police officers discuss a crime-prevention initiative called secure by design. It focuses on how to incorporate security features in homes and buildings, such as lighting and alarms.
3.30pm Westminster, for a talk to Parliamentary advisors on the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology about speed cameras. Brunstrom discusses the results of a three-year study that shows that cameras save lives: "My message is very simple - this debate is now over. It is beyond doubt that they prevent death and injury." He goes on to blame newspapers, like the Daily Mail, for misrepresenting the issue, and believes that pressure groups such as the Association of British Drivers are unduly influential. "They have less than 3,000 members, yet they are given enormous attention by the media. They appear on Radio 4's Today programme. It's ludicrous - this is a bunch of crackpots being given prime airtime. It's just because the media love a controversy."
5pm Brunstrom leaves London. He gets home by about 9pm. "I often only get a chance to read the morning newspaper at 10pm at night".
7am At work.
8am A meeting about high-risk sex offenders. In particular, a man who is about to be released from jail, but of whom prison psychiatrists have said will reoffend. They say he is likely to sexually assault a woman and kill her. Because he is not mentally ill, there is nothing that can be done to prevent his release.
"In this case, we are waiting for him to kill somebody so that we can arrest him. It is a ludicrous situation," says Brunstrom.
There are about four or five sex offenders in North Wales who are considered extremely dangerous. "In my view, we are failing to protect citizens from dangerous offenders. We should rethink whether these people are allowed out in society," he adds.
9am Another meeting, this time to discuss police equipment and uniforms, which are going to be updated. "We are still wearing 1950s dress, and we are looking for a more relaxed style of operational kit."
10am A presentation on anti-social strategy, given to the National Assembly for Wales, which is holding its regional assembly in Colwyn Bay.
12.30pm A speech, followed by a question-and-answer session with about 50 beat officers from police divisions covering Denbighshire and Conwy.
4pm Brunstrom discusses changes to licensing laws with superintendents. New powers will give the police greater powers to close down pubs and clubs where alcohol-related violence is concentrated. It will also allow for 24-hour opening.
"I think we have a binge-drinking culture that is getting worse," he says. "We are also getting mixed messages from the Government, who are relaxing the rules on drinking hours while at the same time alcohol abuse is growing."
5pm Home early. Brunstrom celebrates his wedding anniversary by going out for a meal with his wife. He has two children, a 19-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son.
7am Goes to office to do "two or three hours of paperwork".
Goes sailing with wife.
7.30am In office.
8am Discusses plans with his senior officer to introduce the random drug testing of North Wales police. "Vetting our staff is something that came out of the Soham Inquiry," he says.
10am Discussion with superintendent about ways of tackling anti-social behaviour.
12pm A meeting with the chair of the police authority that overseas the running of the North Wales Police to discuss the agenda for the authority's annual general meeting. Asked by The Independent to comment on whether David Blunkett is planning to take greater control of how the police services are run following his row with Humberside police over the Soham Inquiry, he says: "I think it's up for grabs. The Home Secretary is determined to have more power in his hands."
On the question of whether the chief of Humberside police, David Westwood, should be sacked for his force's failure to keep records on Huntley's history of sexual abuse, he replies: "I think more than one person should bear responsibility."
1pm-4pm An investigation of Flintshire county council for criminal malpractice is discussed with his Deputy Chief Constable and the inquiry's senior investigating officer. "Standards in local government, in my view, are not high enough," says Brunstrom.
5.30pm A public meeting in Bangor. About 50 people turn up, and the issues of speed cameras and drugs are raised again: "We have endemic speeding. It is rather like the controversy that Barbara Castle caused when she first brought in breathalysers."
On the question of legalising all drugs, Brunstrom insists: "There is overwhelming public support for a debate about this issue. Any decision should be based on evidence not dogma."
He argues that North Wales police arrested 26,325 people last year. Sixty per cent of those arrested were on drugs.
10.30pm Meeting finishes. Home by 11.30pm.
5.30am In the office.
6.23am Catches train to London.
10am Brunstrom gets straight off the train at Euston station and has a meeting in a coffee shop with the police liaison officer from the Department for Transport.
12pm Arrives at the Association of Chief Police Officers' headquarters in central London. Brunstrom is there for a meeting with the National Criminal Intelligence Service to discuss wildlife crime, an issue on which he is the national police spokesman.
2pm To the House of Lords to meet two Lords to discuss road-policing matters.
6pm Returns to hotel in London.
8pm Meeting with the chairman of the North Wales police authority to discuss the future of policing strategy. They talk until 1am. "We drank just water and Coke all night. It was a working meeting; it is so rare for us to be able to spend that kind of time together that it was too good an opportunity to miss."
1am Bed. Asked whether the long hours are really necessary, he replies: "I enjoy doing my work; I love every minute of it. I couldn't do the job properly without putting the hours in. The idea that chief constables can take time off in the week to play golf is something out of cloud cuckoo land."
Richard Brunstrom was talking to Jason Bennetto
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