Police Crime Commissioners – #PCC = ???

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November the 15th will soon be upon us and I’m starting to think that the initials PCC should actually stand for Policing Community Conundrum, as opposed to Police & Crime Commissioner…

On that date we will see the first ever elections for 41 new Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), people who we will elect across England and Wales (except London) to give us the public a say about how our police perform. (You can read more about PCCs at the Home Office website).

Perhaps the PCC proposal is actually more to do with what Rt.Hon Theresa May MP told senior police officers when she became Home Secretary? She wanted them to be “crystal clear” that the “mission” of the service was “to cut crime, no more and no less”.

Anyone with even the remotest understanding of police work should know; police officers in reality spend the vast majority of their time and effort dealing with matters and incidents that are not “crime” per se. They are called upon by the public, and their similarly cash strapped ‘partner’ agencies, to deal with anything and everything, whether or not that task actually falls within a policing remit. Most police officers care about providing a service that helps and protects the public they serve.

The police are (were) a ‘can do’ organisation. It’s one of the underlying reasons why the police once enjoyed the high levels of public support they did in the past however; continued government drives that have focused on little more than enforcement, as opposed to providing assistance and service, are responsible for destroying that public support. It has been instrumental in creating that widening rift which now exists between our police and the public.

Police and Crime Commissioners will ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible and will improve local relationships through building confidence and trust…(One Team Policing)

The above statement is all well and good but the introduction of PCCs will also have major consequences for the fundamentals of British Policing. If you listen to the ConDem Government, all of those impacts will be good ones. Conversely, when you listen to others, both commentators external to the process and several who work within the service, many aren’t totally convinced or enamoured about the proposals.

Cameron has created a mechanism that will ensure forces can never be rationalised or reformed, while the police gain a tireless “democratic” advocate demanding ever more manpower and money, despite no close correlation between police resources and crime rates…(Polly Toynbee)

But what is the point of all this continual focus upon crime, again? Crime statistics (for what they’re worth) suggest that offending is falling, additionally many ‘experts’ in the field of Criminal Justice system also say that prison doesn’t work. In reality, most answers to crime and policing from politicians are little more than smart straplines or soundbite rhetoric. As Polly Toynbee pointed out in her article, “Cameron shows he’s also addicted to the quick fix of tough talk.”

David Gilbertson QPM, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner to the Metropolitan Police, former HM Assistant Inspector of Constabulary at the Home Office and author of The Strange Death of Constable George Dixon wrote on the subject recently:-

Recent history shows us that party political loyalties and operational policing do not mix… Sadly, the reality of the electoral process for the first generation of commissioners shows every sign of turning into a slow motion car crash…(the-platform.org.uk)

Mark Botham, Chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Federation Joint Branch Board has clearly outlined an official stance on many of the PCC issues. Mark has also raised some pertinent and very important questions in his blog which require urgent answers.

…there remain some unanswered questions which the public should have answers to from all candidates…(Mark Botham)

Several of Mark’s comments have been seen by some as sitting on the fence however; as Mark and his colleagues have to work with whoever is subsequently elected, it’s right for him to be diplomatic in his stance and open to the opinion of others (irrespective of his own personal views). He is considering his organisational position for any future negotiations he may be required to enter into on behalf of the officers he represents.

That said, Mark’s ‘official’ views can (simplistically) be summarised in the question – will PCC appointments risk politicising the police service, or is it a good way of dealing with lack lustre Chief Officer performance? This is also the main area of debate that many question.

Several articles by Jon Harvey, a leadership and organisational development practitioner, published in the Guardian Public Leaders Network have also raised numerous questions about the PCC role, including some of those already mentioned;

In addition to all this controversy and argument about the role it is suggested that; PCC elections, along with the creation of associated Crime Panels in each corresponding area, are also designed to make savings in the public money being spent on the governance and accountability of policing. If that is correct, why does it appear the proposals are unlikely to achieve many (if any) of those proclaimed savings?

New crime panels being set up across the region will contain up to 70 per cent of the members of the police authorities they were designed to abolish, with critics condemning the controversial policy as an unnecessary waste of tens of millions of pounds…(yorkshirepost.co.uk)

As recently as this week the Prime Minister and policing minister Damian Green have both spoke publicly about the New Landscape of Policing, something the Home Affairs Select Committee also reported upon (see here).

If you want more tough policing, you can get it. If you want coppers who are on the beat, on your street, cracking down on antisocial behaviour, focusing on the things you care about, then don’t just talk about it, get out on 15 November and vote for it…(Rt.Hon. David Cameron, Prime Minister)

As the PCC election process is now something of a done deal, Cameron’s rallying call to the electorate although partly valid and required is in my opinion, too little too late. It is little more than rhetorical and simplistic hot air. A collection of words cleverly designed to appeal to an electorate showing waning support for him and/or his government.

That electorate is rightly concerned about policing and crime issues, even when they don’t really understand them. As is probably also the case with many of the prospective candidates. Is it any wonder that the police officers are worried too?

The thought that law enforcement decisions in this county will be influenced by a prospective candidates bed time and unhindered by current UK legislation is of great amusement to me. It probably won’t be quite so funny when he can’t deliver, and the bitching and blame-games start…(Inspector Gadget)

The electorate are the people who can’t understand why their government and the police appear to be failing them so often. Failing to effectively combat all the issues that they are fearful of, despite contrived public satisfaction surveys. Fearful of the issues that have a negative impact upon their lives, even if they’ve never been a victim.

In my opinion the creation of PCCs and Crime Panels (in isolation) will never cure any of the fears and concerns that many people hold. But despite many of those ‘fears’ being genuine, they’re also largely unjustified. Not only that but they are interpretations of reallity which are usually compounded (if not originally created), by manipulated statistics and the sensationalism employed in our nation’s media reporting methods.

In short; a PCC is a waste of time, a waste of public money and won’t deliver as intended. But as ever with political sollutions, you’ll have to wait for at least three and a half years (but probably longer) before I can sit all smug again saying – I told you so!