This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meet the Commissioner (part two)

The film about Ann Barnes, Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner, continues to provoke comment on the ether and airwaves. She is yet to issue any form of response, I understand (although correct me if I am wrong). One reaction was even in the air yesterday when someone flew a plane over Kent Police HQ towing a banner suggesting she might like to consider resigning.

There appears to be an emerging consensus that Channel 4 have done something of a hatchet job in the editing suite and that Ms Barnes was somewhat, shall we say, optimistic that they would not do so. There is probably much more positive footage left out than was put in.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of facts from the programme that have not been much commented upon: Ann Barnes (as former Kent Police Authority chair) was against the introduction of the PCC based governance model. And, when that campaign was lost, she spent £50k of her own money to get elected. This is not a direct quote but I suspect that Ann was "damn well sure that no one else should get in!" In this respect she was an honourable campaigner and won, against the odds, in very Tory Kent.

But let's be very clear: there are very few politicians (having consented to do so) who might be filmed and very selectively edited who could then not be made to appear somewhat lack lustre. Heck, if there was a documentary about the council meetings I attend, I dread to think what might be the result! And I think you could apply this to almost any job. How many of the police officers and others who have been roundly condemning Ms Barnes, would be happy for a camera crew to follow them around and use extracts at will...?

Now, I know this sounds like I am defending Ann Barnes. That is not my purpose and it is not my job: she will have to do that for herself. I am merely pointing out that a camera is by definition selective.

I am also not defending the PCC based governance model. In this respect, I am at one with Bob Jones, PCC for West Midlands who has done his best to make a poor model better by introducing multi-party governance boards across his patch. You can read his comments on 'Meet the Commissioner' here. The PCC model is going to have to be refined. (Read my previous blog as to one big reason why.)

But...! The idea that the police should somehow be independent from public oversight is a non starter. And when I read tweets which say something like "this is what you get when you mix politics and policing", I quietly fume! Policing has always been political: the job of the police is to enforce laws created by politicians (etc).

Moreover, the police services (and wider justice system) spend a great deal of taxpayers' money and deserve to be held to political account for this. The idea that the police should be accountable only to themselves is, frankly, ludicrous. Would we let any other arm of the state to float off into some unaccountable nook away from the glare of public concern? No, of course not.

As I said previously, Ann Barnes has some brilliant recovery to perform.

But the #documockyoumentary is not a reason to abandon all political governance of the police service. It is a reason to examine, once again, whether investing so much power in a single individual is a wise way for such governance to be enacted.

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