Nick Owen, journalist & presenter, meets David Munro who talks about his love for the County, his role and the challenges the Police Force face keeping Surrey safe.
I’m spending a day with David Munro who is the Police and Crime Commissioner, seeking re-election to that job in May next year. I’m going to be talking to him about what his job entails, what he wants to do in the future and also a little bit about the man himself.
David, first of all tell us about yourself, where did you come from? What brought you to Surrey? and more specifically, what led you to your role of Police and Crime Commissioner?
Hi Nick. Yes I moved into Surrey in 1987. I was in the army before then and left in mid-career. I needed a job and my first offer was in Farnham, in computing, and so for the last 33 years I’ve been a Surrey resident, the luckiest move in my life I think. It’s a fantastic county which I know pretty well now – and it’ll be feet first I think when the time comes!
During the last depression but one, I was made redundant and then purely by accident moved into local politics. Where I live, my local Conservative party were looking for someone very quickly to stand for election locally, and that someone ended up being me. I was elected as a local councillor and then got elected to the Surrey County Council representing Farnham South. One thing led to another and quite recently I found myself as Chairman of the Council. After I did my two year tour, looking for something else to do within politics and public service (very important to me), the vacancy for Police and Crime Commissioner came up, and after a very testing selection procedure I faced the electorate in 2016. Luckily all went well and here I am.
And you’ve got to be re-elected now, that’s being delayed considerably due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but you do face a fight I suppose, and you’re not a conservative any more, is that right?
Yes, I’m an independent now but I’ve always been a moderate conservative and my views haven’t changed at all. I think moderate conservatism is in tune with the majority of people in Surrey actually, and so I’m very happy to stand as an independent. I think I’ve got a lot more to offer this way, although the party helped me greatly during my political life. I’ve got an enormous number of friends there, but it was quite a relief to be able to move on. I can now say a little bit more what I think, to be able to criticise where criticism is due and also to praise where it is due without regard to party politics.
Now the job of Police and Crime Commissioner, What is it? What do you do?
My job in a sentence is to hold Surrey Police to account on behalf of the residents of Surrey.
An easy thing to say, however a bit more difficult to do – I’m the representative of over a million people, who’ve all got different views on how they think the Police should operate
and my job is to mediate those views and to tell the Chief Constable what I think is required.
Basically I see myself as the Chairman of the Board of Surrey Police, so I’m up there doing finance, strategy and representation. The Chief Constable is in operational command of Surrey Police, so does the detailed policing. I appointed the current Chief Constable and If necessary I also have the powers to dismiss him, but I assure you that is not on the table at all at Surrey Police. He is an excellent Chief Constable and is making a big difference to the force.
Some suspicious people might say, that sounds very cosy and do you always get on with them, everything’s marvellous, surely your job is to keep probing and make sure they stay on the right side of doing their job?
Yes that’s a very good question, but it’s essential that you have a good, professional relationship, especially as we are in effect both working towards the same goal. There can’t be trench warfare between the two of us because that does nobody any good at all – so we have got to be able to present a united front. You’ll be pleased to know however that we do disagree, but we have those disagreements in private – quite vehemently at times. On the politics and the strategy I have the final say, and on operations, he does and that’s how it should be. But you are absolutely right, you mustn’t get too cosy because ultimately although it may feel better for a few months, it doesn’t do policing any good in the long term.
What sort of budget do you have and What sort of staff do you have to do all this?
I have an annual budget of 250 million pounds to run Surrey Police and a personal staff in my office of 14 people who decide how to use that money best. Of course the 3000 or so people that make up Surrey’s Force do take some resources to run, but I do have a very lean and mean office – far smaller than my equivalents elsewhere in the country – and I think the money is well spent.
A lot of people will say, why on earth do we need Police and Crime Commissioners in the first place?, public money is always very tight, why are we playing this man and his staff to do this job?
Again a very good question, and one that I asked myself, and also one that residents ask me constantly. Well, first of all under the British policing law the Home Office doesn’t control forces directly so Surrey Police is semi-autonomous; that means someone has to be in
charge of them and someone preferably with a direct connection to Surrey residents.
It used to be the old Police Authority – about 20 people such as magistrates and County Councillors, who did that job. They were very expensive and they were pretty faceless frankly. That’s not a criticism of individuals, that’s just how it was and in my view,
they didn’t do as good a job as they could have done, because it was the system that was wrong, not the people involved.
I am personally accountable to Surrey people, it is my duty to them to get it right but I believe I provide decisive leadership, I make decisions much quicker than my predecessors
and basically I’m able to exercise the proper control of the police force which is what they need and we all deserve.
Why should people vote for you, particularly and also getting people to vote at all for this position has been quite difficult in the past hasn’t it and what is the message you want to ram home about your own candidacy?
Yes the turnout in elections I’m afraid is quite low, not just police elections, local elections are the same and we need to change that trend. It is going to prove quite difficult and in my campaign for the coming months I’m going to be urging people to get out and vote because if they don’t vote they can’t really say that they have got a say in how policing is run.
Why should they vote for me? A number of reasons, one I’ve got a career of public service in County organisations and I know what makes the County tick. Second, I’ve been Police Commissioner now for well over 4 years now and I’m confident that I have some solid achievements to my name. We’ve got far more police officers in the ranks than we ever did, we are firmly on top of crime – our confidence ratings at Surrey Police are really very high (and deservedly so) and I think I have gained the respect of many, many residents. Not everything in the garden is lovely, there will always be issues, but my experience means I’m the best person to handle them. Finally, I’m now an Independent so I can speak truth to power and say what I think without fear or favour.
And What about the future, the challenges, what are the main plans that you have,
and how likely are you to get them through, again with public money being so tight?
Absolutely, we have got to make quite sure that every single pound of taxpayers’ money is well spent. We’ve got great plans for the future – more police officers and staff are coming into the ranks, and I’ve asked the Chief Constable to put a particular focus on local policing and neighbourhood policing – which frankly has been difficult over the past few years.
It means residents are going to see their Police Officers much more than in the past
and also they’ll be better placed to crack down on neighbourhood crime.
I’ve got a particular concern at the moment which the Chief Constable shares. Surrey is a safe place, you are less likely to be the victim of crime than in most areas,
but if you are, we are less likely to catch the criminal than in many other places in the country. That has got to change, our clear up rate has got to improve, and that’s going to be one of my big themes if I’m elected in May.
There’s a lot of shifting around in terms of property and police stations and even the headquarters, what is going on there and is it really a good use of public money at the moment to be doing all that?
Yes indeed, the backbone of our property is our police posts in every single borough of the County, each of whom have a dedicated team living in, and operating out of, that borough. Our Borough footprint is going to stay, that is my pledge, but our headquarters at Mount Browne just south of Guildford is, I’m afraid, not fit for purpose anymore It costs an absolute packet to maintain and is not conducive to modern working and not in the right place. So we are moving to Leatherhead to a purpose built building and it’s going to make life very much easier. I have had to take out a bridging loan just like anybody moving house but the sums all stack up, we will spend a bit but we’ll also save much more in the future and we’ll be a much better Police Force and, in particular, more responsive to residents.
One other subject about, very much concerning yourself I would think but very much in people’s minds these days is the subject of diversity and it’s getting all sorts of different people to become police officers frankly and also those police officers to treat the people they encounter in a modern and sensible way, that’s quite a challenge in itself isn’t it?
Very much so: it’s a challenge though that the police are rising to. I was the national leader until recently for diversity so the issue’s very close to my heart. I’m gay myself and I suffered prejudice in my early career so know how it feels, but things have changed immensely and for the better in so many other ways as well.
Surrey Police’s heart is absolutely committed to increasing the diversity of our Police Officers and staff. We have come a long way but we are still not quite representative of the community of Surrey so, yes, it is a challenge but one that we are half way to surmounting and I am quite convinced we will get there.
David, talking about Surrey itself, you’re quite a passionate Surrey man I believe!
Yes, I moved here in 1987, 33 years ago, and never regretted it for a single second, Surrey’s a wonderful county, I feel blessed to live here and it has got so many contrasts. Aside from the beautiful countryside and idyllic villages it has vibrant towns like Guildford and Woking, full of character and culture with many smaller towns that each have their own charm. But what makes a County of course is not the geography and the landscape, it’s the people, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet thousands of Surrey residents, all different, some of them with passionate views, but all of them united by wanting to do the best they can for the County.
Now you’re up for re-election in 2021, you’ve set yourself some very clear targets haven’t you and I think it’s a good idea just to re-state exactly what those are.
I should say of course that policing is about everything so just because I’ve got three targets it doesn’t mean I’m ignoring everything else. However, I’ve got three main priorities: first is to make sure that we recruit the number of Police Officer staff that we need, we’ve made a very good start, thanks mainly to the council tax the Surrey residents that are paying precepts. Second, I want to make sure that we’re in every single neighbourhood of the County – we’re bumping up our neighbourhood team significantly, and especially concentrating on schools and community facilities because fighting crime is not just a question of arresting people, it’s a question of tackling crime at its roots.
Third, I’m very keen that the crime solving rate increases, we want to make this a County where criminals say ‘better not go there, I’ll be caught’.
How do you answer people who will say “do we need this layer above the Police Force, between Police Force and the Government so to speak, isn’t it all a bit expensive?” that’s an old argument, I know but how do you address it, particularly this time when things are so tough?
And I can quite understand that argument. First of all, Surrey Police has over 3000 people – that takes some governing, you can’t just do it off the cuff. My own office is much smaller than most Police and Crime Commissioner offices around the country. I need a Treasurer, for instance, to look after a quarter of a billion pounds of public money, my job is to hold the police to account so I need a couple of people who are really into the data so we can spot when crime rates are rising, or things are going wrong in a particular area so I can hold the Chief Constable to account, and so on. I believe I can look residents in the eye and I can say to you ‘your money is well spent’.
And is your own background, do you think, key to this? You were in the army after all, tells us something about your character.
Yes I think it helps; I’ve been involved in public service in many guises all through my life. Policing is different, I was on a steep learning curve when I came here, still am of course, I will be learning till my last day in office – but the ethos, the public service ethos is something that I’m very familiar with. I went to Business School, I understand figures and so on a technical level I think I’m on top of it. But above all, I’ve got a fantastic team, both in my office and in the police and we’re all on the same side, we all want to do the very best we can by residents. We may disagree at times but we don’t differ about the main policy which is that policing is really incredibly important to Surrey, and we are determined to ensure that our County’s residents feel as safe as they can.
What about issues of traffic, of parking, keeping cyclists safe, these are major issues for the Police these days aren’t they?
Very much so, and of course for the Highways Authority too. The fact is there are too many people who want to use our roads for the capacity and so everybody’s just got to live and let live and get on together. But the police have an absolutely crucial role in making sure our death toll and injuries on our roads are as low as possible – that’s come down significantly but we’ve still got to keep at it. Our ‘Roads Policing Unit’ (RPU) have a vital job, patrolling our roads, checking speeding, clearing obstructions and generally making sure that the County’s roads are safe. And did you know for instance, that about twice as many people die on Surrey’s roads than there are murders in Surrey, and that’s a shocking statistic that we have got to do something about.
You’re a cyclist yourself I think, and presumably a car driver as well, so you like the rest of us you see it from all perspectives, a lot of local people would say, parking is too expensive or not available, speed limits are being ignored in many cases, I mean how do you get on top of something like that?
It’s quite difficult frankly. As I say, the road network is not designed for these numbers of people. We are helped though by a really good chain of volunteers such as the Community Speed Watch team who help us to make sure that people obey the rules. We will enforce speed limits where there is a particularly bad accident area. Because the Police can’t be there all the time we rely on everyone’s good sense to make sure that Surrey’s roads are safe. On cycling, we are getting more complaints. The are more cyclists on the roads – that’s a good thing, cycling is a very healthy and enjoyable sport but it seems some cyclists I’m afraid are a bit too aggressive: on the other hand, some motorists are rather too aggressive to the cyclists, so we need to keep on top of that as well.
There’s been a particular issue since the end of lockdown that more people are speeding, are they full of the joys of spring having been locked down for so long perhaps? But we are noticing that there are too many people out of our roads, motorcycles for instance, that are behaving with flagrant disregard to other road users. My message to them is – ‘we are going to be after you’.
It’s easy to think of Surrey isn’t it as mostly a rural County, lots of trees and lovely views and everything else but its urban areas are very packed tight with lots of issues for the police to deal with. How are you as Police and Crime Commissioner directing what they should be doing in the future, assuming you get re-elected of course!
Of course, which I hope I do, naturally. Yes, Surrey is a patchwork of communities and some are very urban indeed, they have their special problems and I’m very concerned that some people especially in our towns are being left behind. That’s why one of my three main priorities is to get police to every single area, not just the leafy rural districts, though that’s important, but to places where perhaps in the past police haven’t gone – I’m determined that the police will have a much bigger presence out and about in the whole county. One of the increasing problems is drugs. They are too easy to get hold of, relatively cheap these days, and do incalculable harm, besides spawning a whole industry of crime. We’ve recently made some excellent arrests of drug dealers and that will keep going. The message to drug dealers is, ‘Don’t come to Surrey, we will catch you!’
In your role, you’re not there to tell the police exactly how to do their job are you?, you’re there to set the boundaries or not the boundaries so much but the priorities, the sort of things you want to see done overall. Is there a bit of a danger that you just leave him with a long list – it all sounds terribly good but you’ve got to follow that up presumably, make sure it actually happens.
No you’re absolutely right, I do give them lists, residents come to me with their problems of course, I’ll pass that on and I have got to follow It up. I hold regular performance accountability meetings with the chief constable, some of those are in public so that the public can listen in to, but as well as that, myself and my office keeps very careful tabs on what’s going on and if there are any hotspots appearing, I can say to the Chief Constable or the Borough Commanders, ‘look there’s something going on here, what are you going to do about it?’ and to their credit, Surrey Police nearly always step up to the plate. They don’t want crime, any more than we do.
What do you do to help curb Crime and what about the victims of crime, how do you address their concerns?
Crime is at the heart of policing – which is to prevent and then solve crimes, and I play my part too. Every penny that I can raise legally I have given to the police to increase their resources so they can get out on the streets more, get intelligence and catch criminals If the police are not catching criminals and eventually solving crime, then what are they there for?
Surrey Police have got a really good record but we mustn’t relax our guard for a single second so the message to criminals is ‘Don’t come to Surrey, we’ll catch you and put you away.’
And as for the victims of crime? They have a rotten time, don’t they. First of all the crime itself, being burgled or suffering domestic abuse for instance, and then a pretty awful journey through the courts to get justice, too long delays, treated as add-ons to the criminal justice system all too often. I have done a lot of work with victims, helping fund victim charities and I’ve put in a victim witness care unit which is doing great work helping victims and witnesses on their long journey to get justice. We owe them a great debt, they’ve gone through hell some of them and we’ve got to keep them in the forefront of our minds all the time.
Tell me about the things you really love about the job, things that go well and the things that don’t go so well.
There’s ups and downs in this job like anybody’s worthwhile job. What do I love about it? Working for a fantastic team, the police are really, really good people, and I’m just overwhelmed by their dedication to duty. I’ve never come across a more job-focused bunch of people and I congratulate them with all my heart. So a good team doing a pretty worthwhile job, fighting and preventing crime, what could be better than being a part of that? And it’s just fun! It may sound odd that because I see and hear some quite horrifying things, but I know that Surrey Police are on the side of the angels and I am too.
What don’t I like about it?. Well there’s some mornings of course you think, well do I really want to go into the office?; you hear the latest horrific incidents, things do go wrong sometimes of course in a fast moving operational situation but frankly the good things really outweigh the bad things. But one of the great advantages of a job like mine is connecting with the million residents of Surrey, they’re not always complimentary, rightly so and we need to address that, but so many of them are. Surrey Police are at the heart of the Surrey community and long may it stay that way.
David Munro, it’s been a great pleasure talking with you and learning more about your role of Police Commissioner, very best of luck with your election in 2021. – Nicholas Owen.
David Munro, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey is standing for re-election as an independent on the 6th of may 2021. Please do remember to vote – the Commissioner is YOUR representative so have your say.