So you want to be a police and crime commissioner...

 
Police officer through a camera viewfinder The plan is to put policing in the public gaze more

"If I were standing, I'd pledge to clean up the dog poo and Taser groups of three or more teenagers on sight," quipped the world-weary member of a police authority I met at a conference.

"I'd be a shoo-in. They'd all vote for me because these elections are about what's popular - not necessarily what is right."

He was being deliberately absurd - but the point behind it gets right to the heart of the biggest shake-up in British policing for decades: Your vote may redefine how the police keep your community safe.

In just a few weeks' time, 41 individuals will become police and crime commissioners after pitching their vision for cleaning up the streets of England and Wales.

The chief constable of each of these forces will no longer be answerable to the home secretary, but to their PCC who, in turn, will be answerable to the electorate when the elections come around again.

Many police chiefs are so nervous about the impending changes they'd be dialling 999 if they knew of an emergency service that could stop it all. But they can't - so what exactly are they going to have to learn to live with?

For almost half a century, police in England and Wales exercised their powers under the "tripartite" relationship - a balancing of powers between:

  • chief constables
  • the home secretary, and
  • local police authorities.

In short, the home secretary set general priorities and targets and chiefs delivered, under the watch of the local police authority.

By dawn on 16 November, that will be gone. Police authorities, long derided as invisible will be replaced by elected police and crime commissioners. The Whitehall targets on how to fight crime will be replaced by a political mandate from the local electorate.

The PCC will be responsible for hiring - and potentially firing - the chief constable. He or she will set the policing budget and could increase the amount raised locally.

They'll be responsible for services for victims - and also manage grants for crime reduction and community safety.

Each PCC will set a budget and a strategy that the chief constable will be expected to deliver. There will be some local scrutiny of PCC work - but the panel has limited powers to intervene.

Manifestos and machinations

How will all of this work in practice? Well, we don't quite know yet - and that's why the police are nervous. They fear that many candidates who can deliver a good sound bite won't have a clue about the delicate and difficult world of modern policing.

PCCs: The Key powers

  • Hiring and firing chief constables
  • Setting the policing strategy
  • Setting the budget, including money raised locally (the Police Precept)
  • Chiefs retain operational independence

There are predictions that decisions will be influenced by party concerns and that the careers of some of the brightest and best police officers will depend on how they get on with their political boss.

The government believes it has all of this covered. While PCCs will focus on delivering their manifesto, they cannot tell the chief constables what to do. Senior police will remain in operational command, deciding how many officers go where, to do what. PCCs will also be obliged to take an oath of impartiality, a public act declaring that they will be above party politics.

Ministers want the incoming PCCs to focus on two tasks: cutting crime and improving public confidence, because that's what the public will judge them on when election day comes again.

But that, say critics, is where the problems start - and it comes back to our cynical police authority chap.

Ipsos Mori, the polling agency, says that concern about local crime has steadily fallen while there has been also been growing confidence in the police.

It says the polling data shows people want their voices to be heard and a policing response that is visible and reassuring.

The maths behind that data, say critics, would tempt many a PCC to run simple strategy focused on neighbourhood policing. Vote for me for a war on hoodies.

From local to international

But what about the bigger picture? The local drugs squad know who the dealers are. They know the kids who courier the goods on their BMXs - the same kids who will soon be using the drugs and burgling the expensive homes on the other side of town.

Those officers also work with detectives in neighbouring forces to target the regional sellers. And their chiefs want to work with the National Crime Agency to take down the major gangs who are the global market-makers in crime - the gangs organising the theft of flash cars from our cities or the mass electronic harvesting of credit card numbers. By the way, they may be the same gangs who are supplying more drugs and poor immigrant girls into the British brothels.

All of that is a harder story to tell - and to sell to voters - because it's so much less visible.

Ministers hope they have dealt with this in the legislation. The PCCs must "have regard" to national policing requirements. That means that a commissioner won't be able to ignore legitimate demands to co-operate with other forces on tackling serious crime - or to assist in more prosaic ways, such as to provide officers to quell riots.

So after the tub-thumping at election time, an awful lot of this job for those who do get elected will be about hard negotiation in the boardroom between PCCs and chief constables over what is right for local people - but also for national policing.

This balancing act has always been a major challenge in policing - the question is whether the arrival of PCCs will make it more of a public debate.

And that brings us to a final very important responsibility for the first wave of PCCs. Many candidates rightly fear indifference and public confusion.

The Electoral Reform Society has predicted a low turn-out while the Electoral Commission has its own concerns, including over the Home Office's planned advertising campaign.

The prize for the first term may not just be to make your police more accountable - but to convince you to vote at all the next time PCCs come canvassing.

 
Dominic Casciani, Home affairs correspondent Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 287.

    And thankfully milvusvestal, the PCC will not be able to tell police chiefs how to do their job - they have no control over operational matters - simply what they should focus on. Crime and ASB perhaps? How radical. Except, as below, that isn't what the public want although it will be funny watching them come re-election time. Not so funny if dealing with dog poo becomes a strategic priority......

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 286.

    "Give a voice to the public"? Laughable since PCCs will all be using the same consultation data that police forces have been collecting (and acting upon - sort of) for the last few years.I say sort of since, as in the article above, people think dog poo, teenagers on street corners and people (usually local residents) speeding are the most important things for policing. Less poo=more votes!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 285.

    Why waste all the time and money on what will be a very low turnout indeed, when it could simply be left for the local council.
    I doubt anyone is actually bothered, and people will still moan about the police, directly elected or not.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 284.

    Anything that makes the police more 'accountable' is very much welcome.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 283.

    282.KickAssAndGiggle


    Size of your data sample: utterly miniscule and completely and utterly inappropriate to extrapolate from there to the entire Police Force.....

    ....report them to senior officers and/or someone on your local Police Board......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 282.

    Number of policemen I know personally (went to school with): 2

    Number of policement I know personally who also deal cocaine: 2

    Who cares who is in charge when the police are also criminals?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 281.

    278.mayfair69 - no way.

    Whilst I generally support our Police, at the end of the day they are all human, ergo as prone to making mistakes as you & I are, and those mistakes would be a whole lot worse if they all carried guns rather than batons, another name for which easily be "clubs" or "cudgels".

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 280.

    @279 Howesyourview

    Really ? because from what I have seen of the police recently they are the last group of people I would want to hand out more power and guns too !

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 279.

    We need more officers, with more powers and sadly, more firepower (although whether that be a gun or a taser). The police get blaimed for all of societies problem and the poor PCs have to go round trying to clean up people's mess that they call their children Bring them up right you jeremy kyle dodging *naughty word* I watched a program where police came from other countries and they laughed at us

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 278.

    maybe this will lead to all British cops carrying a gun so they can shoot back instead being shot at while yelling stop while holding a night stick.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 277.

    The main qualification for a PCC is obviously to have come up the ranks in the Police Force.
    You cannot manage something that you know nothing about. That is what is wrong with many managers / Directors. Proof of this is the banks but I have had this argument with lots of Managers over the last 37 years. The good ones have always come up from the bottom !

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 276.

    275.undergroundsteez - "
    I find it funny how many anti-BBC people spend so much time on here posting comments about how the BBC does this or that"


    Indeed. Also curious how the right wing allegers of BBC bias cannot see that there are just as many left wingers claiming bias & visa versa.

    They cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong......

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 275.

    I find it funny how many anti-BBC people spend so much time on here posting comments about how the BBC does this or that.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 274.

    271.milvusvestal


    Whilst I agree that crime prevention is the better option, there is precious little evidence that Officers on the beat prevent crime - Officers solving crime on the other hand, catching criminals subsequently does get wannabe criminals thinking....

  • Comment number 273.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 272.

    There is absolutely no evidence that appointing PCCs would have avoided any of the problems recently associated with the police. If anything it will hamper their efforts to fight crime because of local politics and personal interests. Who wants their own 'Boss Hogg' ? Waste of public money and another dangerous example of the cult of privitisation.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 271.

    It is preferable that whoever gets appointed has no previous experience of current policing methods.

    What is needed more than anything is a fresh approach to crime prevention, by putting officers back on the streets where they are visible. At the moment, known offenders rule our towns, and all the police do is chase them at speed with sirens blaring. To them, it's become a game.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 270.

    I expect that stand alone elections for politicised commissioners will attract less than 10% of those entitled to vote.

    Consequently any nut job or extremist who can get 5% of the voters out stands to win.

    I don't think this will give the public more confidence in the Police Service I believe that the reverse is a real danger with this.

    There is no end to the things not safe in Tory hands.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 269.

    you only need look at the police farce in large cities in america to know that political policing is a terrible idea. no pledge is ever going to prevent corruption and it's only a matter of time before we see headlines about this.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 268.

    BBC appears to be 'in hiding today'
    .
    Hardly any blogs open to 'have your say'

    Are the BBC on strike or something or just shy of being accountable for public comment and to provide adequate service to its licence payers?

    Don't ever forget who pays your salaries and pensions!

 

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