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, May 16, 2013

A little more circumspection

Notwithstanding the many excellent people who were elected to become PCCs six months ago today, I believe this model of governance is worryingly flawed and will need to be reformed at some point in the future.

I am committed, like many who opposed its introduction, to making the best of the current arrangement. As I have said before on this blog, I am really not interested in carping on about the low turnouts or the danger of bringing divisive politics into policing, let alone the cost of conducting the elections in November last year. But that does not stop me from wondering about how this framework will need to be developed.

Whilst I get a wry but grim satisfaction from seeing the Thames Valley PCC becoming something of a laughing stock (see the posts below), the situation worries me far more. And I now that people will think this is all about politics but it is not. I know of many Conservatives both in Thames Valley and beyond are very upset, astounded and dismayed at what appears to have happened.

Frankly, I would far rather Mr Stansfeld was focused on demonstrating wise leadership for a police service now reacting to the implications of the Bullfinch trial of men found guilty of sexually abusing young girls in Oxford. Perhaps in part because he has been on the ropes this week about his expenses claims and his use of a dedicated driver, it seems he has rushed out a statement which includes the words
We have a rulebook in which apparently the human rights of these young children are considered more important than safe guarding them. Under the current rules it is almost impossible to safeguard these children whose human rights allow them to go endlessly missing or absent from their care homes.
Huh? Is he really saying that Human Rights somehow allowed this abuse to happen? Has he any evidence for that? Moreover, he has published these comments in advance of the Serious Case Review now being undertaken. So, one of the most senior leaders in the Oxfordshire criminal justice and safeguarding systems has judged it OK to publish his polemical views at this stage. I know that people far more knowledgeable about such matters than I am, are horrified and angry about these comments.

It seems to me that Mr Stansfeld is in serious danger of using these appalling crimes to young girls as an excuse to make pre emptive political points about the Human Rights Act.Shall we have a proper review first, Mr Stansfeld?

But there is a pattern here and it comes back to good governance. Whilst the Government introduced PCCs as a mechanism to boost local accountability and a greater focus on victims & what communities want, the checks and balances seem extraordinarily weak. I would contend that the Thames Valley PCC appears to be acting as if he does not really need to worry about what his public / electorate think, want or need. (Perhaps he might 3 years from now.) The Police & Crime Panel seems more like a fan club or a toothless pussy cat, than a gritty scrutinising body. (Although I live in hope that Friday's meeting might show otherwise... we shall see.)

Good PCCs will use their position to listen to and learn from their electorates between elections and will take their public accountability seriously. Good PCCs are doing this... But the system of governance should not have to depend upon the calibre and integrity of the PCCs elected.

Which is why this system of governance will need to change. I will return to this subject and how it needs to change in later posts.

Meanwhile, may I humbly request the Thames Valley PCC to reflect upon his leadership in recent days & weeks. A little more circumspection would be a good thing, in my opinion...

UPDATE: As it was a direct message, I will not name him, but I will thank the Conservative tweeter who wrote to me this morning saying:
Saw your piece. I wish your PCC would put away his spade.... "Human Rights" my ....! Blaming the victims too.
Of course he is right, Mr Stansfeld's statement is peppered with implicit victim blaming, in my view:
Some of these children were often absent from school.
 ... so their absconding was a factor?
Most of these children were meant to be looked after by Social Services. They were obviously not being looked after properly
... because had they been 'looked after properly' they would not have put themselves in danger...?
Under the current rules it is almost impossible to safeguard these children whose human rights allow them to go endlessly missing or absent from their care homes.
... so it was them going endless missing that was a contributory factor?

I could go on. The implications are deeply embedded, but my fellow tweeter is absolutely correct, in my view: in part, the PCC is blaming the victims. He should stop digging.

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