May 2018: Your Local MP
Any Bishopston resident who was alarmed to see me in a police car as it travelled along the Gloucester Road just after Easter can rest assured that I hadn’t been arrested or decided on a sudden career change!
I was, in fact, shadowing officers from Avon and Somerset Constabulary as they went about a typical Tuesday evening shift, and it was a huge privilege to be allowed to do so. They then took me on their respective beats and answered my many questions.
I first went with PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Richard Jones (who, like me, appeared in the BBC’s recent Drugsland documentary series), as they visited several extremely vulnerable people who have become victims of ‘cuckooing’ – where they’re exploited, coerced, threatened and sometimes hurt, until their home is taken over by drug dealers. This is clearly a very distressing aspect of the modern drugs trade in our city, but I was pleased to see the force's commitment to protecting those who are caught up in it, as well as, of course, prioritising protection for the public.
However, it was clear that this is really challenging work and shows the disturbing ways that Bristol’s drugs trade has evolved. The police, frankly, have to spend far too much time managing the fallout from our failing drugs laws, and their impact on innocent bystanders. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve highlighted the problems in Parliament and called for a complete overhaul of this country’s drug policies.
After this, I went out with PC James Bowles and PC Jenny Daly from the Response team, which responds to calls from dispatch as emergencies are reported to the police. After attending an incident with them I saw how they arrest and book someone into the custody suite in Keynsham. I learnt more about the dangers our police face every day, while keeping us safe. I’m backing the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, initiated by Holly Lynch MP, which seeks to give special protection for our protectors – paramedics, nurses, firefighters, police and other 999 staff – who are abused or attacked while carrying out their work.
The police are stretched at the moment, with officer numbers across the country at their lowest levels for 30 years. Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens recently warned that funding for the service is at a tipping point. Cuts of £65m since 2010 – and a further £17m to find by 2021/22 – mean policing is being hit hard. And only last week the Police Federation warned that Avon and Somerset police officers are owed nearly 10,000 rest days which they haven’t taken since September, because there aren’t enough staff to cover days off.
Seeing first-hand the vital work these officers do has made me even more determined to stand up to the Government and demand our police forces are given the funding and resources they need to keep us all safe.