Pandas on the streets of South Wales: The new South Wales Constabulary formed in 1969

This is the second of three articles that look at the formation of the South Wales Constabulary with the amalgamation of the Glamorgan, Cardiff, Merthyr and Swansea police forces. The first article concentrated on the launch of the force on 1 June 1969. In the second, we look at the new ‘modern’ police formed 50 years ago. Most of the material used is taken from the Chief Inspector’s Annual Reports held at Glamorgan Archives and, in particular, the report for 1969-70 (ref.: DSWP/16/2). Glamorgan Archives also holds an extensive collection of photographs of police work from this period.

The South Wales Constabulary drew together the four forces in Cardiff, Glamorgan, Merthyr and Swansea with very little change in the overall number of officers. The bulk of the new force, some 1300 officers from a total of 2391, was drawn from the Glamorgan Constabulary. The smallest force, prior to amalgamation was Merthyr with 141 officers followed by Swansea and Cardiff. This sounds like a sizeable number and indeed the Constabulary was one of the biggest in the country. However, as the new Chief Constable, Melbourne Thomas, pointed out, this only amounted to one officer for every 500 people in the area covered by the constabulary.

There were already signs that the new ‘modern’ police force was seeing changes in its traditional recruitment patterns. Although not fully integrated within the force until after the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, by 1969 female police officers were employed in just about every aspect of the force’s work from the uniform branch to the Criminal Investigation Department, the Traffic Department, Special Branch and Drugs Squad. However, there were only 65 female officers, some 3% of the total strength. In other areas civilian roles were expanding rapidly with a total of around 500 employed by the South Wales Constabulary. While most were in clerical jobs, civilians were increasingly being employed in wider roles both out on the street with 69 traffic wardens, and behind the scenes with vehicle maintenance being undertaken by civilian staff.

The numbers and the maintenance of vehicles were dealt with in some detail in the report. In part, this was indicative of changing police methods with the introduction of Unit Beat Policing. In line with national recommendations, issued by the Home Office in 1967, Unit Beat Policing encouraged forces to invest in cars and personal radios so that officers could patrol and respond rapidly to calls from the public. While the approach taken reduced the number of officers patrolling on foot, in theory, it sought to make best use of new technology to police large areas. By the end of 1969 the new force owned a total of 459 vehicles, of which 160 were allocated to the 8 divisions for Unit Beat Policing. Although still work in progress many cars were already equipped with wireless while officers had access to 528 personal radios.

The introduction of Unit Beat Policing was not without its hazards. 1969 saw a significant rise in police vehicles involved in traffic accidents, including 93 incidents involving cars involved in Unit Beat Policing. As Melbourne Thomas admitted:

Because of the rapid introduction of unit beat policing it was not possible to give every driver the full instruction which police drivers normally undergo to raise them to an above average standard…

However, he assured the public that:

…no police officer was allowed to drive without a test to show that he was well capable of coping with normal traffic hazards.

Glamorgan Archives holds an extensive collection of photographs from this period, including several of the Morris Minors that provided the backbone of Unit Beat Policing in South Wales. Referred to as Panda Cars, although they were actually painted light blue and white, and equipped with wireless they became a distinctive feature of policing in many areas.



Looking at the report there were many features that now sound commonplace but were new developments in police work in 1969, including campaigns to promote the installation of automatic burglar alarms and the running of crime prevention seminars. There were also one or two old favourites including the ‘Talking Beacon’ used in road safety campaigns with young people. Sometimes referred to as ‘Billy’ or ‘Bertie the Beacon’, the campaign featured a belisha beacon with a face and often sporting a bow tie that was taken on visits to schools. Billy had a recorded voice and provided advice on road safety such as ‘Stop, look and listen before you cross the road’. In an age when robots were still largely limited to Hollywood movies, Billy was ‘always enthusiastically received’.

Perhaps one other aspect of the ‘new developments’ was of significance. The crime statistics for 1969 were dominated by the traditional categories of assault, burglary and theft. Although the new force had a specialist Drugs Squad the only reference to work in this area was the report that two police dogs had completed training to detect cannabis resin. Possibly this was with a weather eye to the future for, within 12 months, the Chief Constable was reporting he was concerned by …the spread of illicit drug usage especially amongst young persons…  With 274 people charged with drug offences in 1970 and the arrest of 6 people in Cardiff for running a ring importing LSD in exchange for cannabis resin the Chief Constable was sufficiently concerned to order training for all officers in combating drug crime.

During 1969, 11 officers from police forces across the globe – from Nigeria to Bahrain to the Solomon Islands – visited the South Wales Constabulary. There is no record of their thoughts. But there is no doubt that there would have been much food for thought as the new constabulary put down its roots and adjusted to the changes and challenges of policing South Wales.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Copies of the Annual Report of the Chief Constable for 1969 and 1970 are held at Glamorgan Archives, reference DSWP/16/2.


One thought on “Pandas on the streets of South Wales: The new South Wales Constabulary formed in 1969

  1. Pandas on the streets of South Wales: The new South Wales Constabulary formed in 1969 - Glamorgan Archives

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