Police and Crime Commissioner- A Personal View

Will elected Police Commissioners be independent or will they be political puppets?

I recently received a phone call about the role of the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner who will be elected to the post in November this year.

It was an interesting conversation in which I was asked would I be putting my name forward for the post having now retired from the Prison Service which turned me to thinking about what I would put in an election address to an already disenchanted public.

Let me start by saying that the Labour Party is opposed to elected Police and Crime Commissioners on the grounds that it would be expensive to introduce and may well end up as a political appointment who will be at the beck and call of local and national politicians.

But it is now in place with all legislation to bring them forward on the statute book so it would make no sense at all for Labour to stage a boycott of the election and not field a candidate which would simply hand the post to nominees from the other parties.

I have written before about the kind of person I think should be the Police and Crime Commissioner so will concentrate on what I think I would be saying if I was a candidate.

Perhaps the most contentious issue at this time of austerity when a majority of the people in Northamptonshire are facing real cuts in their standard of living and quality of life is the level of salary for the role.

It is being suggested that the Police and Crime Commissioner will be paid up to £120,000 a year; I think it’s too much and believe a basic salary of £60,000 a year with a £10,000 bonus if all of the crime reduction targets are met is reasonable and high enough to attract excellent candidates.

What has not been discussed in talking about the cost of Police and Crime  Commissioners is the additional cost of setting up an office and staffing to support the Police Commissioner which could well add an additional £100,000 to the role, all of course at the taxpayer’s expense.

I have always been a supporter of the police and believe that they respond to being supported in a very positive way so I don’t apologise for being amongst those who believe that we should put the ’victims’ and the ‘prevention of the next victim’ through positive action as the main priority for the Police Commissioner.

It is a ‘rat catcher’ approach where those who are known to the criminal justice system as persistent priority offenders should be challenged to stop and if they don’t be given custodial sentences and whilst out of prison hounded to a point that they stop or are sent back into custody.

Policing and more importantly ‘visible policing’ are essential in restoring public confidence and reducing the fear of crime that exists across Northampton shire and it has to be said especially Northampton.

I make no apology for saying that I would increase the police share of the Council Tax, (and in doing so expose the Council Tax Freeze Con), to provide more police officers and PCSO’s and to invest in a County wide recruitment of Police Specials, the increase would also make up for the County and Borough Council cuts in funding.

What would be different is that people would see the impact of the increase by a visible presence of ‘feet on the street.

It would be a very clear policy sending a message the law-abiding public and those who decide to break the law that ‘We are here and will not tolerate it’.

Community Sentencing would a focus that makes the sentences meaningful and those in the probation service who are tasked with supervising the offenders given the support to carry out their responsibilities and take tough action on those who don’t comply with their community sentence.

The Chief Constable and police staff at all levels will be supported in dealing firmly with staff who break the law or bring the police service into disrepute and the long-time historical public service solution of people ‘tendering their resignation’ in such instances would not be allowed to happen.

Public confidence will be restored of they see that those with responsibility to uphold the law are also if they decide to abuse their position will face the full force of the law.

One problem is of course that the public also have little confidence in politicians, both nationally and locally so I believe that the Police Commissioner has to be held accountable by the public.

I’d set up police monitoring panels with a major difference to the current police authority, the difference being that the panels would have a maximum of eleven members of which there would be a maximum of four councillors the other members being non-politically affiliated independents.

This would of course not be well received by local political parties but I think is essential to remove the politics from policing so I would go further and make it statutory that of the four councillors each political party (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat & Independent) would only be allowed to have one member on the panels to give a political balance.

I’d also stipulate that Councillors who sit on the monitoring panels should do it as part of their community champion roles and would therefore not receive an additional allowance for their duties in representing the public.

It is of course the politics that will both attract and sadly also put some excellent candidates off-putting themselves forward as candidates.

The reality is that political parties will be selecting candidates to carry their banner into the election.

My problem and I’m sure that of many others is that once elected on a manifesto and if as we see all too often the political party changes policy leading to them reneging on the promises made to the public where would it leave the Police Commissioner?.

The greatest challenge is that the Police Commissioner will have to stand by their promises even if it goes against the sponsoring political party and the local and national politicians, and if necessary be prepared to resign if there is political interference or a reneging on policies and promises.

Why is this important?

It is important because one of the most disturbing things around the election of police commissioners is the current rhetoric which always starts with

“Police Commissioners will have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables”?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that there are more important aspects to the role than being able to sack a Chief Constable.

Budget management, public confidence, reducing crime, detection and bringing offenders to court, protecting the public, supporting victims, identifying, targeting and tracking persistent offenders and supporting our front line police officers are just some that I would put well before having the power to sack someone.

The difficulty and complexity of the Police Commissioner cannot and should not be underestimated, what is clear is that it will almost certainly be subject to political interference so to whoever is a nominee I wish them the best of fortune.

Will I be putting myself forward?

No-one has asked and I very much doubt if they will.

What is important is that it will be the electorate who will decide and I urge all of those who live in Northampton and who are entitled to vote to make themselves heard by voting in November.