Question time for commissioner candidates

by Kevin Meagher

Ballot papers to choose Labour candidates for the new Police and Crime Commissioner roles are set to land on members’ doormats in coming days.

Despite the party’s opposition to the policy, these are important and powerful new roles. Commissioners will set the strategy and budget for their force and revolutionise public accountability, replacing anonymous police authorities with high-profile figureheads to stand up for the public’s priorities.

At least that’s the promise. But will commissioners go native and become little more than the dancing puppet of chief constables? Or will they throw their weight around wrestle with the top brass over where the split between ‘strategic’ and ‘operational’ lies?

Just as importantly, will they reside in their new plush new offices or spend their time out and about, working with communities to tackle crime and improve public safety?

Take it as read each of the candidates will campaign against the government’s crazy police cuts which will see up to 16,000 officers, a similar number of back office roles and 1,800 PCSOs face the chop.

But what are their views on some of the other big issues? Here are a few suggestions about what we should be asking them.

1)    What are candidates’ views on the deployment of water cannons, tasers and baton rounds (rebranded ‘plastic bullets’)? Any repeat of last summer’s riots will undoubtedly lead to further calls for these potentially lethal weapons to be deployed.  However Association of Chief Police Officers President Sir Hugh Orde described water cannons as “useless” in tackling the riots we experienced last August.

Will your commissioner stand up against this creeping militarisation of our policing?

2)    Last week’s Home Office’s white paper, Putting victims first – more effective responses to antisocial behaviour promises a “community trigger” to compel the police and other agencies into action if five households complain about a particular anti-social behaviour problem, or if the same individual complains three times. This comes after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that just a quarter of the estimated 14 million actual incidents of anti-social behaviour ever get reported. Yet these still account for 45 per cent of all calls to police – one call every 10 seconds.

What will commissioners do in reality to refocus the police’s effort and end the culture of complacency when it comes to anti-social behaviour?

3)    Candidates will need to work with communities to ensure ‘policing’ isn’t just about the police but how civil society and other public agencies play a bigger role in governing communities. Hack politics and business-as-usual will not be good enough. Especially as a poll last week showed a quarter of voters are ready to back an independent candidate.

How will your commissioner reach out to voters and communities across the political divide and ‘do things differently’?

4)    The West Midlands and Surrey forces have halted plans to privatise aspects of policing until after the Olympics to allow for more public consultation. They were looking at privatising functions including emergency call handling, prisoner transfer and neighbourhood patrols.

In these financially straitened times, how do candidates intend to make use of the private sector without compromising public accountability?

5)    There are 43 forces in England and Wales – of all shapes and sizes. Duplication and inefficiency are inevitable. Last week ACPO President Sir Hugh Orde described the current arrangements as “a patchwork quilt of sub optimal solutions which don’t provide the public with consistency or value for money.”

That’s why Labour’s home secretary Charles Clarke tried to regionalise forces.

Will our commissioners have enough vision – and selflessness – to support reducing the overall number of forces – and, by extension, the number of commissioners too?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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2 Responses to “Question time for commissioner candidates”

  1. swatantra says:

    An extremely poignant article.
    The whole Commissioner thing has been rushed. You can’t do these sort of things in just one year without planning for failure. OK you’ll get a handful of good Commissioer but the majority will be duds.
    Charles Clarke for all his faults and vindictiveness, and the Labour Govt were on the right track : Regionialism is the Future; that means Police ad Emergency Services, Regional Assemblies with sensible Budgets and Tax raisng powers and RDAs. Its called rationalisation and consolidation and unification, and the point of 43 separate bodies doing their own thing is well made; its a waste of duplication and effort and resources. When the Labour Govt put Regionalism to a Referendum, the electorate in its simplicity voted it down. The fact is the electorate don’t understand the issues or referendums for that matter.
    And Sir Hugh Orde is wrong about water cannons and other civil disorder revention measures. These will come anyway, so why not now; they’ll only be used in the last resort anyway. The Govt is not helping by abolishing the ASBOs, and bribging them back under a new name.; of course the ASBO’s had to be simplified and the whole process made quicker. The Police has always been criticised for their response time. Well the whole CJS system also has to be criticised for failing to bring villans to justice pronto. Its a disgrace. Summary Justice is the best and mos effective form of justice it is quick and immediate and ts what villans understand.

  2. Paul says:

    “What, if anything, will you bring from your membership and experience of a political party with socialist values which will make you distinguishable from the candidates of other parties and none?”

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