Now is not the time for Police and Crime Commissioners


11:45 am - July 19th 2011

by Lee Griffin    


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Plans are afoot for a move in this country to elected police and crime commissioners. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2010-11 is currently going through the House of Lords and will see it’s third reading on Tuesday (today).

They’ve been pushed forward by the Conservatives, the only party to suggest such a plan in their manifesto.

The plans put forward are to “shift power directly into the hands of the public as they elect police and crime commissioners to lead the fight against crime and disorder in their areas.”

If the public feel they are influencing the police force, albeit making them happier about the force in the process, this doesn’t also mean the police are more effective at their purpose and stated aims.

In fact it does run the very real risk of the public thinking they should be having more influence than they ultimately will end up having, potentially damaging approval ratings, and trust in the force.

And there is very real evidence that people that intend to get in to this position will do so by playing up to populist stances, without it necessarily being the right direction to take. Take this research conducted on the actions of public prosecutors (mostly elected) in the US.

The theory predicts that when re-election pressures are high prosecutors increase the number of cases taken to trial and plea bargain less. Data from all forty-three districts in North Carolina over twelve years provides empirical verifcation.

As a job, it’s not comparable, but it shows us really what we already know… It’s not a remote possibility that elected police commissioners here would seek to tie up police budgets on schemes that aren’t cost effective but do provide favourable figures in the eyes of the public…or at least the area of the small handful of the public that is likely to return them for a second term.

For a start, what do the public know of the nuances of police budgeting and crime fighting strategy? Some may have very detailed knowledge, many will have none. As I say above, the public will rely on trusting parties, at which point the public are merely delegating their voice to a party machine rather than having a true say of their own.

What the public should have is confidence that their communities issues are being listened to and dealt upon, something that doesn’t need a directly elected official, and confidence that where there is wrongdoing or incompetence on behalf of the police force that it will be quickly and comprehensively dealt with. What it needs on the issue of crime is that common sense is applied as to who is being brought to justice, a remit not even in the hands of local police forces themselves.

With criticisms of both the IPCC and CPS, as well as the invisibility of the police authorities that currently run some of the tasks that the police commissioner would take over, there are much more concerning areas of policing that could be improved and bring trust in the entire crime and justice system up another level.

Nick Herbert, a Minister involved in pushing the legislation forward, has called views like this “Elitism”, which is a very crass way of trying to switch off the political debate about such a potentially large change to the way our police attempt to do their job.

I for one don’t think it’s elitist to ask that we don’t make policy up on the hoof, that we set out a proposition (That the police could be reducing crime faster, and improving public relations quicker), and then carry our appropriate research in to similar models, how they’ve worked, how frequently they’re used, and if the model isn’t used then why not; to legislate potentially for small scale pilot study of the model that seems most in tune with out aims.


A longer version of this post is at Lee Griffin’s blog

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About the author
Lee is a 20 something web developer from Cornwall now residing in Bristol since completing his degree at the lesser university. He has strange dreams, a big appetite, a small flat, and when not forcing his views on the world he is probably eating a cookie. Lee blogs independently from party colours at Program your own mind.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Our democracy

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Reader comments


Thelast thing we need is the police to be in the pockets of the various political Parties dotted around the Country. The police are supposed to keep the peace for everybody not just the section of the people who elect them.

I seriously wonder about the fitness of the Government to run a whelk stall, far less a Country. Whoever thought of these plans need their fucking head examined.

On more than one occasion, I have been accused of a visceral hatred of the Tories. This exemplifies everything I hate about the Tories. No doubt this will be dressed up in reasonable language, but in the end, this is just an extension of classed based power.

I was brought up to believe that the Tory Party was the natural Party of government. Well the cunts that thought up this idea are not the same Party of Winston Churchill, they are the Party of malevolent little bigots and mob rule.

Isn’t this more about the fear amongst some liberals that giving the public power to elect police officials might lead to a “hang em and flog them” chief being voted in?

For a start, what do the public know of the nuances of police budgeting and crime fighting strategy? Some may have very detailed knowledge, many will have none. As I say above, the public will rely on trusting parties, at which point the public are merely delegating their voice to a party machine rather than having a true say of their own.

That’s basically an argument against having elections at all.

“It’s not a remote possibility that elected police commissioners here would seek to tie up police budgets on schemes that aren’t cost effective but do provide favourable figures in the eyes of the public…or at least the area of the small handful of the public that is likely to return them for a second term.”

Isn’t that true of our elected politicians? They bribe the electorate with handouts that are not in the interests of the country

“For a start, what do the public know of the nuances of police budgeting and crime fighting strategy?”

Again what do the public know about budgeting and the national accounts? Not very much. In a recent poll 70% of the public thaought that the national debt would be reduced by £350bn over the course of this parliament, whilst only 10% knew that the harsh austerity measures being imposed will result in a £350bn increase in national debt.

You are right – the public is to ignorant on these matters and should not be allowed to vote in politicians.

On a tiny vote, the most important factor in getting a commissioner elected & re-elected will be there relationship with the media. More important than actual policy & actual policy achievements will be if & how the media report on it.

With what we are seeing this week of the unhealthy & anti-democratic relationship between the media & senior police figures, do we really want be formalising such a relationship with this proposal?

“Isn’t this more about the fear amongst some liberals that giving the public power to elect police officials might lead to a “hang em and flog them” chief being voted in?”

There would certainly be some of that fear involved, the battle lines on elections wouldn’t be your left/right line, but authoritarian/liberal. I for one don’t believe that is something that should vary from local authority to local authority, and isn’t a positive argument to have at anything less than a national level, and involving people with much greater understanding of issues such as human rights than the average voter.

“That’s basically an argument against having elections at all.”

Possibly, though I wouldn’t subscribe to that view; Elections in general are for individuals that can take control of representation on a wide range of issues…their nature is to deal with the very fact that we as a public can’t be all knowledgable about all issues and rely on an advocate that we approximate to be in line with our views.

A police commissioner is essentially a single professional position that can easily be decided through a much more rigorous method of ensuring standards in the job, so there is no need to go for the “common denominator” process of elections, an opposite situation from other elections we hold in this country as far as I’m concerned.

Bodmass: Exactly.

7. Leon Wolfson

You get a race to see who can be “hardest” on crime. It’s seen in America, if this passes it’ll be seen here. You quickly end up with an ever-widening disconnect between the police and population.

8. Merrymaker

Police Authorities are the bodies that are supposed to exercise democratic oversight of police forces – which are accountable to them. They act on your behalf. They have independent members and councillor members. Now some questions; do you know who is on your police authority? Do you know how they got there? Did you have any part in their appointment, or election, to the authority? Do you know their period of office? How large is the authority? Has the authority ever sought your views about policing in your area? Have they ever held an open meeting? Have you seen their annual report? Do you know how much they cost? Did you know that they have a power to precept council tax payers? There are many other such questions, but one last one – if you are dissatisfied with your authority, can you get rid of any or all of the members? I would guess that most people will answer these questions in the negative. I declare an interest. I was once a member of an authority. I am afraid it was a useless body, treated as such by the Chief Constable. The police must be subject to a stronger form of civic accountability then we have at present. Such accountability must involve direct election to provide the power of a democratic mandate. Elected Commissioners is one means, directly electing authorities is another. The present system gives too much unfettered power to chief constables to do as they please without even the slightest nod to what the public want.

Merrymaker, I believe you should go and read the longer version of this post.

10. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

The police must be subject to a stronger form of civic accountability then we have at present.

May I suggest an armed citizenry or privatisation.

11. Leon Wolfson

Merrymaker – I disagree. The system has worked, and well. The problem is something more recent, the *company* at the heart of British policing, which needs to be cut out like the cancer it is. The ACPO.

12. Charlieman

Mistaken belief in managerial shakeups was shared by New Labour in 2005/2006 with the proposition for merging police authorities. The idea was sufficiently rejected by police authorities and by citizens where consultation referenda were held that it was abandoned.

Elected police/crime commissioners is another big solution for policing problems. It deserves to be rejected because it implies that elected == democratic or representative. You can’t cut a commissioner into community slices to make her/him more representative, but you can provide an overview of policing that is more representative than the current system.

As Leon Wolfson suggests, cutting ACPO down to size is important whatever is done. The implied authority of this club of private members is scary.

13. Merrymaker

@9, @11, @12
The key is whether you think policing has lost its connection to local commumities from which Peel thought policing should draw its authority, and if you do how is it be be put right. I think there is a malaise in our policing. Authorities are not the only source of that malaise, but neither do they contribute to its solution. Democratic accountability, through some form of elected oversight, willl help to restore that confidence which has been lost. We all accept that democracy can be a rough tool at times: but it is better than any other way of ordering the affairs of our society.

Just to make clear, from those not reading my fullest….

The Lords bill has fundamentally changed the purpose of the bill. No elected Police and Crime Commissioner, but instead we carry on with police authorities. However they will be called Police and Crime panels now, with slightly different membership criteria.

This panel will then choose their own commissioner, who will be solely responsible for the tasks (as defined by the original legislation), however with a much better oversight of the role by said panel.

Now…this alone isn’t enough, as all it tackles is the balance of power between police authorities and the chief constables to some degree, and more needs to be done on resourcing the transparency and publicity of these PCP’s

But regardless, this is a better step forward, it accepts our current PA’s could be better, that they are ineffectual in places, and redresses that balance some what.

Why we need to jump so far over this simple solution straight to elections is beyond me, hence the writing of this article. It’s less about railing on change, and more about supporting what the Lords have filtered the legislation down in to, and to stand against Government claims they’ll aim to change it back to what it was.

And, of course, you may talk about ACPO but I view things from the “public trust” side of things a little more…and for me that means a better IPCC and a more transparent CPS, way before tinkering with the strategy and budget setters of the police force.

15. Charlieman

Ta, Lee, because I think you are a liberal, thoughtful person.

Should I be able to find your email address (I do not hide my identity but I do not expose it)? Whatever, I would be interested in discussing ACPO.

16. Leon Wolfson

@13 – And a good part of the reason is that police chiefs are connected via the ACPO rather than being interested primarily in their local forces.

“Elected” oversight is polarising and politicised. This is true everywhere else the system is used, why would it be different here? There’s a dangerous amount of bias creeping into the system (the CPS needs reform) as it is.

Charlieman, I use griffindorblog@gmail.com if necessary

18. Planeshift

“That’s basically an argument against having elections at all.”

But the counter argument to this is that if elected police chiefs will improve the service and enhance the role of public opinion in designing how the service operates, why do we not extend it to other areas of public services?

What would you think about elected generals for the armed forces?
Elected head-teachers?

19. John P Ried

5bobdmaster, 8merryman, well said

20. Merrymaker

@18
Yours is a false distinction. I do not want elected Chief Constables, Generals, Head Teachers, Surgeons, and so on. But if they, and the services they provide, are paid for from the public purse and is supposed to provide a public service, then I want democratic oversight of what they do.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Now is not the time for Police and Crime Commissioners http://bit.ly/qMJt28





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