What about the politics of policing?

Home Office

Much has been written about locally elected Police & Crime Commissioners however; there doesn’t appear to be much evidence of public engagement in the proposal or process for their election in November this year…

But as with the Government’s recent Chief HMIC proposal, currently causing great angst across much of the police service, a fact which I posted on earlier in the week (see here), it’s fairly pointless expecting any changes to yet another Government enforced done deal

But, for most of us with concerns about the PCC proposal, the main worry is that of increased politics in policing. I say ‘increase’ because small ‘p’ politics, or at least pandering to politics, has been present in policing for some time now however; with the introduction of PCC’s in November it appears that small ‘p’ is likely to become a very large one!

The Government, in particular the Conservatives amongst that malais have told us; the purpose of PCC’s is to increase the democratic accountability of police forces.

I (and many others) remain sceptical. I belive that if we want to improve policing, not political careers and/or popularity in politics, what we need is a greater level of public engagement. The proposed ‘aim’ is unlikely to be achieved by the politically contrived public control invested in PCC’s. In many respects this is simply another political PR stunt, a smokescreen designed to mitigate against the increasing public service delivery failings.

Earlier this year, Mark Easton at the BBC asked; Can politics and policing work together? A similar question was raised more recently at The Thin Blue Line Blog which asked; How can you increase the democratic influence upon chief constables without undermining their independence? The crux of the of the Thin Blue Line post (see here) suggests that; increased politics in policing, whilst wrong, is almost inevitable. In conclusion the post raises the following points and in conclusion raises the following points…

  1. An already fragmented service will face the future difficulty of one force adhering to the political preferences of the elected commissioner, whereas its neighboring force may be playing by completely different principles.
  2. Regardless of the alleged honorable intentions of the Home Office with its printed objectives for the project, the temptation to influence decision-making along political agendas will become irresistible.
  3. Locally Elected Crime Commissioners are appointed to follow the Home Secretary’s focus on the reduction of crime which carries with it the implicit increase in detection’s.

But crime statistics have been manipulated disgracefully for many years by successive Chief Officers and their management teams. Whether for political, career or financial gain, the fact remains that the public have been conned into believing that crime is reducing and detection’s are increasing at a greater rate than is actually experienced.

Indeed, it has even been suggested that dramatic crime reduction was the main reason for policing not being ring-fenced in the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Since then we have witnessed significant and continued cuts to the essential front-line services of policing.

Perhaps if the books of crime hadn’t being so corruptly “cooked” over so many years, things would be different. Being more factual and honest with actual crime figures, along with the low primary detection rates that sit behind those fiddled figures, would have forced any Government into protecting the public by not decimating the service. 

The main driver for any politics in policing are crime statistics and detection rates. Whilst ‘sanctioned detection’ and ‘HO guidelines’ dictate how police actually record and react to crime and other offences, irrespective of legal definition and impact upon the public, politics will always drive policing.

I hardly think that the power of local democracy, via PCC elections, is actually strong enough to drive forward significant and required change in that process. As to Chief Officers becoming more ‘honest’ and/or accountable, that’s also unlikely.