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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Crowd sourcing the shape of things to come (policing and crime governance)

OK. To cut to the quick: like many people concerned with the future of policing and community safety outcomes, I think the current PCC based governance structure needs to be replaced as soon as possible. The question is with what? I will go into my rationale (briefly) further on, but here is my proposed replacement, in a fairly small nutshell:

The 40+ force model in England & Wales needs replacing with one that is corralled into about ten Strategic Justice Boards. Community policing priorities would be determined by council Local Justice Boards (similar to the Stevens Commission) and led by local members. These would be the building blocks for local accountability and would be coterminous with Health & Well Being Boards (with whom they would have much in common.) The LJBs would also have some influence over the practice of other justice related bodies.

The Strategic Justice Boards would be elected every four years. These SJBs would consist of between 7 and 9 people which, by dint of using a proportional electoral system, would reflect both majority and minority political interests (including independents) in a fair way. The person who received the most votes would become the de facto ‘Strategic Justice Commissioner’, and the others her/his deputies. The SJBs would appoint the Chief Constable, Chief Prosecution Officer, Chief Offending Management Officer (and so forth). They would set precepts and budgets, commission other allied (third sector) services, drive forward collaboration, coordinate strategic / ‘non community policing’ etc.

SJB decision making would be scrutinised by a small but adequately funded body elected by a standing conference of all LJB members once every two years. This ‘Justice Panel’ would have the power to call in and challenge any decisions made by the SJB. Three or more LJBs would also have the power to call in decisions. SJBs and LJBs would be statutorily required to consult with the public and place improved victim outcomes, reducing the fear of crime and improved confidence in the justice system at the heart of all that they do. SJB and LJB members would have both geographic and specialist concerns to focus upon.

I would be the first to admit that this model is not complete and needs refining (hence the title of this blog). I am very happy to hear about what you foresee as problems with this model, how you would improve it or indeed why it cannot possibly work (etc.) Please get in touch!

And as for the reasons why (in no particular order):
  • Systems of public governance that are overly dependent upon the calibre of single individuals are hazardous if not downright dangerous. Efficient decision making is good, but not better than effective decision making.
  • 40+ systems of IT / HR / serious crime investigation (etc etc) need to give way to a smaller number which will open up the channels for more efficient working and greater evidence based practice.
  • Individual citizens and communities want to know to whom to go to complain and influence local policing and justice services. PCCs are not nearly local enough.
  • The justice agencies need to be joined up at the level of budget and governance: only this will properly drive collaboration and partnership working forward.
  • Tribal politics has its part to play when elections happen but justice and policing services are too precious and important to us all to allow narrow tribalism to dominate. A pluralist, proportional board is more likely to make better decisions in the long term interests of all.
  • Good scrutiny is essential and needs to be built in from the start (and not added as a limp afterthought as happened with the current police & crime panels).
  • Local government leaders are most concerned with their locality and creating a board made up council leaders (as advocated by the Stevens Commission) is impractical, in my opinion and arguably unconstitutional (in that it would involve central government dictating to local government who should join a strategic policing board).
  • The governance of policing cannot now be allowed to slip back into something like police authorities which though they had their advantages (not least in their diversity), were mostly invisible to the public. 
  • By dint of local political demographics, in several areas, the PCC selection processes have become more important than the electoral ones. This has also resulted in a set of PCCs that does not reflect the diversity of society and has the potential to damage community relations between the police and the public.
But what do you think?

Should we make this system of governance happen?

And if this does not happen, what should happen?

I understand that the Conservative Party are considering expanding the role of the PCCs to encompass more (direct budgetary and commissioning) power (by a single individual) over other justice agencies. Do you want to see this happen?

(And for the constitutional geeks: yes you are correct. There would be insufficient time between the 2015 general election and the 2016 PCC election to put my arrangements into place. But there are ways around this…)

Finally I would like to record my thanks to the John Roberts, Roy Bailey, and Fran├žoise Richardson of the Reading Criminal Justice Association for convening the conference last Saturday and to everyone who came along, especially our lightening speakers. It was a thoroughly useful and stimulating day. As facilitator, I was able to dip into various conversations although (as facilitator), I was slightly less engaged in those conversations than I would have liked to have been. The conversations on that day have helped me formulate the ideas above. Please watch this space for a report of the day that Roy is assembling. 

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