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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Police: who will be the leader?

I first posted this article 20 months ago. It seems appropriate to post it once more...


There is now draft legislation to replace Police Authorities with elected Police Crime Commissioners. As we await the passage of the legislation into law, the debate is continuing about how these new PCCs will work - or indeed whether they should happen altogether. Today the Civil Service Live Network put up a debate between a past Home Secretary and a think tank Chief Exec about the pros and cons of this new policy. You can access it here.

It is a debate that I felt moved to add my six pennyworth - here is what I wrote:

Not being able to name the chair of local Police Authority is not a powerful argument. Not even knowing that such a body exists is perhaps more convincing. Certainly, despite their best efforts, the awareness of Police Authorities is still very low amongst the general public. But there again, how many citizens really understand how all public services join up and are governed?

Quoting the research about public satisfaction with the police is not best placed since that has far more to do with how members of the public feel treated by police officers & staff (sadly) following a crime that it does about concerns about the setting of overall priorities.

The gap between reality (crime has been going down significantly in recent years) and perception (fear of crime & antisocial behaviour is still high) is notable. I ran my own one person campaign to get fear of crime included in the responsibilities of the local Crime & Disorder partnership legislation (1998) but failed. I do wonder, had it been in there whether things would be different now?

The gap is down to many factors not least the media coverage of crimes, the doubt over 'statistics' (lies, damned lies etc) and the ability of many in and involved with the police to really 'connect' with the public. PCSOs have been doing a remarkable job here and local PC led neighbourhood teams have been making real inroads. But, how many of these structures will survive austerity measures is yet to be seen. I do worry that expectations on these new PCC's will be so high whilst at the same time front line services will be cut back (there is only so much money to be saved by reducing the IT department to one person and an electronic dog) - that a perfect storm will be created. And in this storm, the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour and broad acquisitive crime will have a field day. Crime and fear of crime will rise together. I hope not, of course, but the omens are not good.

But on the other hand, over the years I have been working with the police as an independent adviser / coach / facilitator - I have seen the police HQ car parks grow and grow...

I don't think the last Government 'chickened out' - I think they ran out of legislative time. By the same token, one could argue that this Government has chickened out of a national restructuring and moving away from 43 independent police forces in E&W. Interestingly though - Scotland and possibly Wales are moving towards whole country forces in each case.

It is vital "that local people had a real say over the policing in their area" but I am just not sure that PCCs alone will be the answer. They may be part of the answer - but on their own - almost certainly not. I speak as someone who has lived and worked in the Thames Valley Police for nearly all of my adult life. It is a very large patch which extends from Milton Keynes to Witney to Reading to Slough to Eton and so forth. The idea that all these geographically (and otherwise) diverse communities could all feel represented by a single person is a stretch of the imagination. What will be critical, assuming the draft legislation becomes law, will be to elect a person who has a very clear and convincing plan for how to 'stay in touch' with the broad sweep of the area. I can only hope that the preferential voting system that the Government is proposing to use for electing these PCCs will be able to ensure that the best possible people - politically and otherwise - become the new PCCs. I also hope that the rigour of scrutiny and challenge that must happen as part of the selection processes and subsequent campaigns of all the candidates will tease out the wheat from the chaff (ie the really committed, knowledgeable and citizen focused people from the 'place people' that the central political parties may try to parachute in).

Once these people are in place - yes there will be some very tricky issues around governance and relationship with the Chief Constables to resolve. On its own, I don't think that is an argument against having the new PCCs. However it is an argument for some very clear thinking about roles and boundaries before the PCCs are elected. Perhaps some simulations, thought experiments and the like would not go amiss. This is not wholly new terrain since PAs have had the lead responsibility for Best Value while the CC is operationally independent. It was never really tested when (say) the PA decided the 'Dogs Section' should be closed down on BV grounds while the CC said that it was an operational matter over which he/she had complete autonomy. This was never tested.

So it is a big debate - which will only kick into gear when / if the legislation is passed into statute. When that happens, I hope that Civil Service World will host more debates like this (on and offline) to flesh out just how this new leadership role will operate in the context of 150+ years of policing.

Debate: Elected police and crime commissioners

I am left pondering on how the new PCCs (assuming it becomes law) will impact upon leadership in the police service - not just at the chief officer level but also throughout the organisation.

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