The uncertainty over the implementation of the Governments policy on elected Police Commissioners is now over and with the first Northamptonshire Police Commissioner to be elected in November 2012, it will be the start an undoubted rush of candidate selection by the political parties across the country.
What is clear is that the era of the almost mythical Dixon of Dock Green policing is well and truly over and all demands for a return to it is simply playing to the crowd. A modern police force is faced with modern criminals who are not only highly mobile, are able to use modern communications to organise themselves but are also tending towards being more violent. It is why we have to support the police if we are serious about supporting the public.
People have already started to ask who will stand for the role and will it be a retirement reward for political service and whether the reported salary of between £100,000 and £130,000 justifiable.
Lets start with who is eligible to be a Police Commissioner.
MP’s. MEP’s and those who sit in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly can be candidates but will have to stand down from their current role if elected. Elected Mayor’s and Councillors can be candidates but it is unclear if they would have to stand down.
Independent, non-politically nominated people can also stand as candidates, the problem of course being that they may not have the support infrastructure to mount a county-wide campaign.
It is therefore increasingly looking as though the role will be filled by a person nominated and selected from the main political parties which in turn brings the danger that the election of the police and crime commissioner may well be turned into a referendum on the support for the police by the political parties nationally and locally.
What will be important is that whoever eventually wins they will have to remain independent and put the needs of the public first and not those og their political masters who may wish to pull the strings from the wings.
The current police authority is made up of seven independent people and six county councillors under the excellent independent chairmanship of Deirdre Newman.
Members of the Police Authority currently receive a basic allowance of £7,000 a year and the deputy chairman £10,500 a year which brings me to the salary for the Northamptonshire Police Commissioner.
It is clearly a very senior and significant role with full responsibility for the strategic direction of the force but with operational responsibility quite rightly continuing to be held by the chief constable.
I firmly belive that the new Police and Crime Panels which are to being set up to ensure local authorities support the PCC should be made up of independents and councillors, but where the elected councillors should see their role on the panels as an integral part of their civic duties and would therefore only receive out-of-pocket expenses.
The £60,000 , in councillor allowances for the abolition of their role on the police authority should in my view be the starting salary of the first police commissioner with performance being rewarded based on results in reducing crime and addressing the needs of the public.
This will fulfill two main objectives, the first being a salary at a level to encourage candidates who will put the interests of the people of the county first and not as a four-year retirement package opportunity, the second would be to address the perception that councillors currently only sit on external committees as a patronage reward and in the future will be on the police and crime panels because they have a real interest in public protection and community safety.
The public will expect the police commissioner to defend the public interest, chief constable and fight against the cuts to front line services and rebuild the trust in modern policing and the excellent people who are working to protect the public.
The next 12 months will be interesting, the biggest danger being that political parties will play it very low-key working on the principle that a small turn out for the election will give them a result they seek which wouldn’t be good for democracy or the people of Northampton and Northamptonshire.