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Police Commissioners - Who Needs Them?

August 26, 2011 10:49 AM

Lords Say No to Elected Police & Crime Commissioners

Although the House of Lords has rejected the coalition's proposals to introduce directly elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, the Home Secretary proposes to overturn this decision in the Commons, and hold elections for these positions in May 2012.

Rebel Lib Dem peers joined forces with Labour lords to reject a key part of the Police Reform Bill - the votes went 176 in favour of the changes but 188 against. The nays included ex Liberal leader Lord Steel and two previous Metropolitan Police Commissioners Lord Blair and Lord Condon. Instead they have proposed a Commissioner appointed by a panel similar to the present Police Authorities, which together would form a Police Commission. This proposal has been welcomed by the Association of Police Authorities and especially by those of us who are concerned about political interference in the policing system. The aftermath of the recent riots is a point in question, as is the furore over the News of the World phone hacking.

However, Home Secretary Theresa May says the new Commissioners "would make forces truly accountable to their communities, ensuring resources are properly targeted to where needed, giving the public a greater say in measures to reduce crime and improve community safety". They would also "represent and engage with all those who live and work in the communities"… "identify their policing needs", as well as setting priorities by agreeing a local strategic plan, holding the Chief Constable to account, setting the force budget (including the police element in council tax bills) and appointing (and maybe sacking) the Chief Constable.

Is this change for the sake of change?

Currently the Home Secretary/Home Office set the police policy and budgets. Would this change? At the next level are 43 Police Authorities made up of members from elected bodies (i.e. councils) and appointees who set the local policing budget for their force. In future there would be 43 new bodies (police & crime panels) made up of similar representatives, each of which will "oversee" their Police Commissioner, who in turn sets the local policing budget. This is the main change.

Below all of this, in old and new scenarios, the Chief Constable still runs his/her police service and all the day-to-day operations of the force. The difference is that, whereas now the Police Authority advises and guides the strategy and budget making of the force, in future a directly elected political individual would be solely responsible for this. This of course may politicise the police, and is where the main opposition to the Home Secretary's proposal will come.

Will PCCs add anything to how the police service already functions? Or is it a political red herring that will cost yet more money and potentially give extreme organisations access to undue power in our local policing system? This should be a serious issue for all of us.

Whilst Home Office ministers are saying that the proposed Commissioners, similar to the US system, will improve local accountability of our police services and Chief Constables, others are asking about what evidence exists to show such new elected positions will cut crime. Wouldn't increasing the numbers of policemen and women on the street make a bigger contribution to fighting crime?

Councillor Tony Allen (Bovey Tracey)