Give PCCs a chance

by Kevin Meagher

Okay, it’s not been a good week for police and crime commissioners. The derisory 10.4 per cent turnout in the by-election to elect a new commissioner for the West Midlands was bad enough; but the shambles over South Yorkshire’s commissioner, Shaun Wright, quitting the Labour party in order to hold onto power, after previously being responsible for children’s services in Rotherham, plumbed a new depth.

A gift, then, to those who would happily see the entire model of direct public accountability over the police fail. Unfortunately, this appears to extend to the Labour frontbench. At the weekend, the Sunday Mirror quoted a party source, apparently reading the last rites over PCCs: “They’re finished. The only question now is what we will replace them with.” What indeed?

When the legislation was introduced in 2010, Labour described PCCs as an “unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion”. This reflected the view of the police establishment. The then president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, predicted chief constables would quit rather than endure a new layer of democratic accountability. It was an empty threat.

Even so, the police hate police and crime commissioners, hankering for a return to the old system of servile police authorities made up of “invisible” political placemen who were, in reality, little more than ciphers for the chief constable.

Theresa May – the most reforming home secretary in decades – remains unmoved. She has pressed on, smashing the cosy, ineffectual consensus around police accountability. The introduction of PCCs has been accompanied by long overdue reforms to police pay and conditions and she has brought in a tough outsider, Tom Winsor, as chief inspector of constabulary to drive improvements in service standards.

Unfortunately, Labour now finds itself cast as the conservative party when it comes to police reform; willing to do the chief constables’ bidding by focusing on cuts rather than reform, even though this leaves the party on the wrong side of the facts. Police staffing may have reduced since 2010 but there has been no increase in recorded crime.

The party’s review of policing, which reported last year, was chaired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens – the insider’s insider. Little surprise, then, that he described PCCs as “systemically flawed” and recommended scrapping them. Instead, he wants committees of council leaders to run policing, a sure-fire recipe for inertia and the total abandonment of direct public accountability.

Rather than accepting Stevens’ backsliding prospectus, Labour should work with the grain of May’s changes. Instead putting unelected chief constables back in the driving seat with the establishment of more toothless committees, Labour should build on and improve the police and crime commissioner model.

The current problem is that PCCs are too timid. This reflects a problem with the calibre of many of them and their lack of ambition for the role. But there is also an ambiguous division of powers between commissioners and chief constables. PCCs are responsible for ‘setting priotities’  while chief constables retain operational independence. But where does one end and the other begin?

Their existing remit covers things like setting the force’s annual budget, representing and engaging with communities in their area and appointing or dismissing the chief constable. These are blunt powers, with many PCCs reduced to fronting troublesome community meetings. Instead, they should be bolder in setting priorities for how their forces operate, stemming from their political values. In other words, answering the question: ‘What value is added to local policing by having a Labour PCC?’

They could, for instance, make it clear that they will crack down on the misuse of undercover policing, rule out the use of water cannons, and stop the casual militarisation of policing with the creeping use of ‘non-lethal’ weaponry. (Under the disgraced Shaun Wright, South Yorkshire Police is tasering someone every two weeks).

Police and crime commissioners may be failing to capture the popular imagination and a few may have made mistakes in office, but is the same not also true of many council leaders? Do we abandon them too, or do we seek improvements? The clamour for Shaun Wright’s resignation is at least made possible by the fact he is directly, personally accountable.

What we do know is that we have tried other models in the past and they have failed to provide proper oversight of our police forces, which has led to many of the failings that have come to light in recent times. Direct accountability is still the surest way of driving improvements in policing while ensuring there’s a better focus on the public’s priorities. Labour should give police commissioners the chance to show that.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to “Give PCCs a chance”

  1. John Reid says:

    Crime has been falling for 19 years,and the cuts over the last 4 years(excluding pay cuts,which have been going on for 7years) aren’t going to show if crime rises due to the cuts,
    Recorded crime works in different ways,Labour put pressure to get clear up rates up,the Tories in the last months have done the same,as such in 1997 police would turn up to a row outside a pub,instead of telling the drunks to clear off,would nick them give them a caution,then let them go with a fine and it would appear the police have solved a crime, now look at Museums having foreigners with knives or Mace,instead of seizing it off them where they didn’t realise ,they weren’t allowed to have it in the UK, the police in the last few months have arrested them, with a caution,the funny thing is a year from now Museums in London will become crime hot spots on the figures,it to appease political pay masters of appearing to solve more crimes

    Obviously less police on the beat or in cars will see less crimes that are only spotted if there’s police there,kids with knives smoking drugs, or speeding

    The council estate where I live had a strong safer neighbour hood team 5 years ago,Boris cut it crimes gone up but no police see no crime so if someone has their ape all kicked down by kids having a fight,if there’s no witnesses ,it’s gets reported as An accident that fell over by mistake,also the Olympic saw families with anti social behaviour incidents moving form inner lo do. Bringing their criminal ways to outer london as such crimes fallen in inner London,

    Regarding PCS it’s not democratising them ,it’s politicising them where are the Police authorities,who use to do a good job monitoring mistakes made by police bosses,

    John Stevens ,is hardly a labour supporter,the fact that he didn’t find much to support PCCs,is hardly becuase he’s part of the establishment,

    Why do you say those on police authorities were invisible,they got their stories in local papers and could report back at safer neighbour hood meetings,some of whom were labour activists who reported back at Labour meetings

  2. John Reid says:

    Why shouldn’t South Yorkshire police Taser someone every two weeks, in 1984 ’32 police were murdered on duty, on the Mainland ,all be it 7 by the IRA, the link to invisable monitoring shows a CPS report, what’s that got to do with anything?

  3. bob says:

    Sounds as if Chief Constables are afraid of the idea of accountability, it shines a light into the places they don’t want illuminating. Look at the GMP, Chief Constable being investigated and charged with criminal acts. The Chief Constable of SYP twisting and turning over the Rotherham sex scandal, has he suspended any officer pending investigation over this, there must still be some officers who were involved who are still members of SYP same as Thames valley and West Midlands over the same subject.

    The bright light of publicity has opened up the role of the police and the King case, if this child had come under the British legal system, this case would have disappeared into the ‘nacht un nebal’ (night and fog) of the family courts and its impenetrable secrecy.

  4. John Reid says:

    Come to think of it PCCs were supposed to give police chiefs, their own limit on how they policed areas, they wouldn’t have a say in what level of protective equipment, like tasers the police had, case point, during the recent riots as there were so few, Rmed or/Riot police, the police chiefs, had to say to their officers stand back let the riots take place, we can’t send beat bobbies in their,incase one is killed without the right equipment, and then the police chief would have been prosecuted under both the H and S at work act, and corporate manslaughter,

  5. swatantra says:

    Give peas a chance? They’ve had their chance. Bring back the Police Authorities

  6. Tafia says:

    The problem with PCCs is the public (quite rightly) don’t see the point of them. They lack power over the Police and they are part of the political apparatus and as a result, they serve little pirpise.

    You want the public to support PCCs then:-

    1. They must never have been a member of and must not be allied to any political party.

    2. They must be resident in the area they are elected to.

    3. They must have control over strategic direction (as opposed to operational and tactical) over the Police forces they are supervising and force them to carry out the wishes of the people over the wishes of the Justice ministry, Home Office.

    4. And above all they must remember that they are not there as part of the Establishment. They are there to be the eyes, ears and voice of the ordinary people and to report back to the ordinary people and make sure that the police are serving the wants and needs of the ordinary people. Years ago the police used to operate on the principle of ‘policing by consent’. That is no longer the case.

  7. Neil Marshall says:

    The PCCs in general appear not to understand what their role is, although some appear to see their priority to be the apologist for the police, not a key part of the checks and balances between the police and the public.

    However, to focus on the PCCs right now would be to miss the point…what is needed is a radical overhaul of our grubby and morally corrupt police service. Part of the problem is the gene pool – to be a Chief Constable, you have to be someone who has been tarnished by service as a beat cop. Hence, we see men at the top with extraordinary salaries who can’t string a coherent sentence together; we have Chief Constables who appear before Select Committees and who casually admit to illegally doctoring reports; and we have Chief Constables who tell lies. And, somewhere in the background, is the malevolent hand of the Police Federation, which sees its mission to prevent those accused of illegal behaviour from being disciplined. And ACPO appears to be a law unto itself.

    If we want accountability, we should place the police under the direct control of the Home Office, not ill-equipped individuals like Shaun Wright or the even more useless Anne Barnes in Kent. Tom Winsor is a breath of fresh air – let’s get right behind him in his task to introduce senior managers from outside the police service and find him considerably more money to fund the IPCC.

    Only by culling our overpaid senior policemen – people who would not even rise to junior management positions in the private sector – and by putting a sizeable number of corrupt policemen behind bars will we see a culture change. The ‘College of Policing’ is window dressing – on their website they list as one of the things that they do NOT do “create a raft of bureaucratic guidance for the police service”, which seems curiously at odds with their activities.

    Real change requires a radically different approach to the management of our police forces and a disciplinary machine that truly – and speedily – weeds out the miscreants.

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