Devolution of policing, however, is one of those areas where an apparent “decentralisation” will probably turn out to be centralisation in disguise. Whilst one of the police commissioners has already started the defence of his turf, it seems inevitable to me that passing policing to the Welsh government will eventually result in the merger of the four police forces into one single national force. It’s one of those curious proposals which a number of Welsh politicians will instinctively oppose when suggested by London, but support if proposed from Cardiff. What’s a little inconsistency between friends?
As a general rule, I tend to oppose the centralising tendencies of our AMs in Cardiff, but in the case of the police, the lines drawn between forces, and the geographical areas covered, have little to do with localism; and there is no real democratic accountability to be taken away. I’d like to hope, though, that the Welsh government will think a lot more laterally about policing than simply creating a single national version of what we currently have.
Why is “policing” seen as necessarily being a single whole rather than a diverse series of different functions which don’t all need to be run in the same way? A single unified police force doesn’t seem to be the norm elsewhere; it’s only the norm here in the UK because of the way it’s developed over time.
In the US for instance, the Highway Patrol, local sheriff’s office, state police, and FBI are completely separate organisations, enabling a degree of local democratic control where appropriate, and the development of more central and flexible expertise in other fields. What about using a bit more imagination in Wales by looking at a much more localised approach to some aspects of policing on a similar model? That would do more to protect and enhance local democracy than treating the existing police areas as though they were set in stone.
The devolution of policing may not happen any time soon, listening to the mood music from London; but it will happen at some point. Once we accept that, the significant issue is not whether we have the powers, but what we do with them.