A police chief who’s retiring has been hailed as a “game-changing” champion of vulnerable and downtrodden people.
After five years as North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones decided to stand down at the election on May 6 although he will remain in post until the official handover to his successor six days later.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, was elected as the Plaid Cymru candidate in the 2016 poll, with a landslide 25,000 majority after campaigning for drug law reform and more action to tackle domestic abuse.
The two issues were front and centre throughout his period of office which was extended by a year when the election originally due last year was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On his first official day in the job, Mr Jones pledged to make combating domestic violence a top priority.
A month later he put his money where his mouth was when he announced he was providing the money to ensure that North Wales Police was the first force in Wales to issue body worn video cameras– particularly useful in the aftermath of an incident of domestic abuse – to all front line officers.
One of the things that had changed most in between the time he retired as a police officer and taking office as police and crime commissioner was the fact that a lot of crime had moved online.
He therefore also invested money and resources to tackle new and emerging threats like the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, including children, and fraud.
As well as setting up a new Economic Crime Unit to crack down on fraudsters, the police and crime commissioner provided funding to pay for a dedicated officer to support fraud victims.
Similarly, Mr Jones made history when he funded the appointment of the UK’s first police support officer to help victims of modern slavery.
Both officers are based at the Victim Help Centre in St Asaph which receives funding from Mr Jones and provides support and advice for victims of crime from across North Wales.
Mr Jones is also proud that he has helped to shift public opinion around the issue of drugs legislation reform as well as launching a raft of pioneering initiatives.
Among them is the ground-breaking Checkpoint Cymru scheme – the first of its kind in Wales – to steer low-level offenders, including people caught with drugs for personal use, away from crime.
Arguably, Mr Jones’ finest hour came in the final 12 months of his time as commissioner.
At his instigation, a six-month trial with the life-saving spray Naloxone, which acts as antidote to drugs overdoses, was held in Flintshire.
It resulted in saving two lives during the pilot and now the scheme is being rolled out across North Wales with police officers volunteering to carry the “miracle” spray.
Martin Blakebrough, chief executive of the Kaleidoscope Project, said: “Arfon, as the PCC for North Wales, has sought to understand and then educate people on the causes of crime. Drug use is one such issue across police forces in the UK.
“An approach that sees drug users as both victims and perpetrators of crime has been a real game changer.
“In recognising drug users as victims – often victims of Adverse Childhood Experiences for example – he has introduced the concept, of where possible, to support people in order to bring change.
“The Checkpoint initiative is testament to this new approach, where crimes are recognised, but people are given the support they need to make changes.
“So rather than simply punishing a drug user through fines and imprisonment, costing the tax payer huge sums of money, support on the range of issues a drug users is offered.
“The legacy of such an approach will see the rehabilitation of offenders and will bring lasting change to the drug user, their families and the wider community.
“This approach is now being adopted by other forces and to create such a legacy is a tremendous testimony to Arfon.”
Gaynor Mckeown, chief executive of DASU (Domestic Abuse Safety Unit North Wales), said: “I have had the pleasure of working with Arfon and his team for the past three years.
“His commitment and desire to tackle domestic abuse and those impacted by it has been phenomenal.
“He has encouraged, supported and challenged those specialists working in domestic abuse across North Wales to ensure we are delivering the very best support to the most vulnerable in our communities.
“I will miss Arfon’s leadership and unwavering dedication and wish him the very best for the future.”
The biggest single decision taken by Mr Jones during his term of office was the appointment of Carl Foulkes as Chief Constable and he is delighted with his “excellent leadership” since he got the top job.
Chief Constable Foulkes said: “I want, on behalf of myself and the force, to wish him the very best for the future as he steps down as Police and Crime and Commissioner. There have been a number of milestones along the way and I thank him for his support.”
Mr Jones said: “It has been a great privilege to be North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner and I will look back at my term in office with great pride.
“I would like to thank and pay tribute to the fantastic team in my office, ably led by the chief executive, Stephen Hughes, who has provided wonderful support and wise counsel.
“I would also like to thank and express my admiration for the brilliant officers and staff of North Wales Police for their commitment to ensuring that North Wales remains the best, safest place to live and work.
“It can be a dangerous job at times, none more so that the past year when they have also had to cope with the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, including, unbelievably, people coughing and spitting on them.
“Finally, I would like to wish my successor all the very best in the job. They are inheriting a very fine police force with first class leadership.”