A police boss has vowed to crack down on drugs gangs and child sexual exploitation after his proposed 38p a week rise in the cost of policing was approved.
Among the other priorities revealed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones are tackling domestic abuse, cyber crime and modern day slavery.
Mr Jones was speaking after the 7.7 per cent increase, one of the lowest in England and Wales, was given the green light by the North Wales Police and Crime Panel.
According to the commissioner, it will enable him to invest in front line policing by recruiting an extra 34 officers and six staff on top of the 90 additional officers and staff taken on since he was elected in 2016.
The UK Government gave special dispensation to forces to charge an extra £24-a-year for Band D properties and most forces are expected to accept the opportunity to take the maximum after years of austerity, allied to the necessity of pumping more cash into police pensions because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
But at £19.98 former police inspector Mr Jones’s increase is well below the £24 ceiling.
He said: “North Wales is still one of the safest places in the UK but that doesn’t mean we don’t face challenges and many of these are in new forms and we have to be ready to adapt to them.
“The fact is that a great deal of crime committed today happens online and we are very aware now in North Wales that our frontline is now online.
“But we are also seeing the use of county lines by city drug gangs to infiltrate areas like North Wales by coercing and exploiting children and young adults to build up their drug supply networks.
“I believe police resources should be concentrated on targeting the organised criminals who are responsible for peddling drugs and not their helpless victims.”
Since his election in 2016 Mr Jones has presided over increases in staffing by North Wales Police while the Force has faced real terms cuts in its budget and he added: “It’s vitally important that we set the precept at the right level to provide an effective and efficient police service that delivers value for money.
“I have worked closely with the new Chief Constable and his team to decide on the level of budget needed to deliver the priorities in my Police and Crime Plan which aims to reduce threat, risk and harm by identifying the most vulnerable people in society. I will do everything in my power to protect them.
“Crime is evolving and as a police force we have to change to deal with new threats like modern slavery, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, with the threat posed by online paedophiles.”
As part of his commitment to consultation, Mr Jones has again carried out an online survey of council tax-payers in North Wales with nearly 2,000 people responding, an increase of over 50 per cent on the previous year.
More than 1,000 of them backed an increased in precept of 37p or more with a third in favour of a much higher increase of 50p a week.
It also showed “overwhelming support” for the priorities in Mr Jones’s Police and Crime Plan which sets out the strategy for policing North Wales.
It all comes against the backdrop of £31 million in savings forced on North Wales Police since 2011 and a real-terms cut of £2 million in the annual grant from the Home Office for the coming year.
In total the North Wales Police budget for the coming year is £154 million and has been allocated so as to deliver the priorities of the commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan.
Mr Jones added: “I have been encouraged by the public’s overwhelming support for my vision for improving the way the region is policed .
“The survey has shown that 90 per cent of those who responded are in favour of prioritising tackling organised crime and keeping neighbourhoods safe.
“It is important to consult with the public to find out what kind of a police force they want and what their priorities are.
“As well as consulting the public, I have had detailed discussions with the Chief Constable and his senior team who confirmed that a council tax increase of 7.74 per cent will enable much needed investment back into the front line following a decade of financial cuts and will support the best possible operational delivery of policing in North Wales.
“It strikes a proper balance between affordability for council tax payers and ensuring the Force can continue to be an efficient and effective force.
“Four and a half per cent of the increase was needed just for a standstill budget which would have meant that the force was unable to cope with the growing demand generated by new and emerging crime.
“We are facing new and increasing challenges so the force must evolve and adapt and despite the swingeing cuts of recent years, we continue to invest in our frontline, making us fit for the future.”
Chief Constable Carl Foulkes said: “We have aligned our efforts as a force to deliver on the priorities set out in the Police and Crime Plan in order that we can ensure that North Wales continues to be one of the safest places in the UK to live, work and visit.
“As a result, we are focusing our approach on strengthening front line policing, increasing our proactive capacity and protecting vulnerable people through our Operational Improvement Programme.
“In addition to the extra personnel we have recruited since 2016, we will have an additional 30 investigators who will be a major asset as we tackle the new and emerging crimes we need to concentrate on.
“Over the past decade North Wales Police has absorbed £31 million in austerity cuts and we are now having to be even smarter in the way we operate.
“As well as making the most of the diminishing budget at our disposal, we are working more closely with partners so we are making the best use of our joint resources.”