Wales Election 2016

Police and crime commissioner elections: The essential guide

Police officer

The polls to decide which AMs form the fifth assembly term will open on 5 May - but on the same day there is another election too.

For the second time, voters will pick their police and crime commissioners (PCCs).

The roles have been controversial from the start, although they have slipped somewhat into obscurity since their inception in 2012.

There is one for each of the Welsh force areas - and you can read more about Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed Powys and North Wales force areas in separate guides.

So, with the polls looming, it might be the right time to askā€¦

What do PCCs do?

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Media captionWhat are police and crime commissioners and why should you vote?

Police and crime commissioners were launched in 2012 in a bid to bring more accountability to policing.

The new roles replaced the former police authorities, which were largely made up of councillors appointed by local authorities that formed part of the force. There is a PCC for each force in England and Wales.

Like the former authorities, PCCs oversee and decide on police budgets.

They decide the precept - the bit of council tax that goes direct to the local police force and acts as a top up for grants from the Home Office and elsewhere - and comes out of your pocket.

Importantly, they hold the chief constable to account. They can hire a new one if a position becomes vacant and they can get rid of them and replace them with someone else, if they want.

The only example of this happening in Wales was in 2013, when then-chief constable Carmel Napier resigned after independent Gwent PCC Ian Johnston told her to retire or be forced out.

PCCs also set what is known as a "police and crime plan", setting out the force's strategy and policing priorities which are drawn up with the help of the public and victims.

So they run policing then?

Image caption The current Gwent PCC Ian Johnston, who is standing down

No, they definitely do not do that.

It can be confusing - PCCs might hold the purse strings but they cannot decide what officers actually do.

This is called the operational independence of the police. It is protected in legislation and PCCs can have nothing to do with it.

I remember the election the last time around... I didn't vote.

Image caption A polling station in Cardiff

You probably did not, and nor did most other people.

The PCCs elections' turnout, in a wet and miserable November 2012, was the lowest in peacetime Britain.

Fewer than 15% turned out in the 41 English and Welsh police areas, with the turnout in Wales at 14.9%. A polling station in Newport received no votes at all.

Others took to defacing their ballots in protest with 120,000 ballots spoiled, 10 times the rate of earlier general elections.

The Electoral Reform Society - a group which presses for changes to how elections are run - called it a lesson in how not to run an election. They criticised a lack of information about candidates and the fact that the poll was held during the winter.

This time the election is happening at the start of the summer, although it is difficult to argue the public are any more clued up about who their PCC is, or what they do, than they were in 2012.

Is the role expanding? Would that apply to Wales?

Image caption Fire services could come under the control of PCCs in England

There are plans to allow PCCs to take on the functions of fire and rescue authorities, but that would apply in England only.

The Home Secretary Theresa May has suggested PCCs could set up free schools, but given education is devolved to Cardiff Bay that is highly unlikely to happen here.

But Ms May has suggested that PCCs could have a role in youth justice, probation and court services - three areas that are still in the hands of Westminster.

Is voting for PCCs different to other elections?

Yes. You get two votes - a first preference and a second preference.

Voters can pick their first and second choice from the ballot. If a candidate receives more than half of all first choice votes, they are elected immediately.

If this does not happen, all other candidates other than the first and second are eliminated.

Secondary votes for the top two, from those eliminated, are then redistributed. The candidate with the highest combined total of first and second votes will be elected.

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