Amanda Ramsay is not impressed by elected police chiefs

No one knew what mutated policy offspring the Cameron and Clegg marriage of inconvenience might produce. Their coalition agreement, published last week, revealed a one word amendment to a little publicised Tory manifesto pledge – to introduce elected police chiefs to England and Wales.  The Queen’s speech yesterday confirmed it.

Apparently, both Liberal and Conservative coalition negotiating teams chose to ignore the concerns of senior police officers, by pressing ahead with plans for what ended up being termed: “elected individuals” to oversee police forces.

Labour is rightly against tampering with the independence of the police. Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson summed it up while still in the Home Office: “The last thing police forces want is politicians telling them how to do their job, which will inevitably happen with elected commissioners.”

The notion of elected police chiefs is strangely incongruent to the general thrust of Conservative campaign messages, which just a few weeks ago saw would-be Tory MPs campaigning on a ticket of scaling back the state. Their leader David Cameron even coined the mysterious phrase: the Big Society, a term yet to be explained or understood (other than as a regression to laissez-faire-do-nothing-government). It was as if we as citizens would take up his rather madcap invitation to do all the policing, teaching and goodness knows what else in the name of the free market and the Big Society.

Yet, despite promises to cut bureaucracy, Prime Minister Cameron now wants to legislate to create a whole new layer of bureaucrats, in the form of elected police chiefs. It’s all very strange.  And all the stranger in the face of the public dissent of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Sir Hugh Orde, President of ACPO, is on record relaying senior police officers’ unrest.  So incensed are they by the proposal that many of ACPO’s senior officers are apparently prepared to resign rather than serve under an elected commissioner.  Let alone subject themselves to an enforced campaign trail and the vagaries of the ballot box.

This is no storm in a tea-cup. ACPO members are far from lone voices in opposing these Tory plans. Outright rejection of this notion runs through all ranks, from the hard-grafting police constables on the front line, represented by the Police Federation, through to the Superintendents’ Association, right up to the most senior level of ACPO. All those organisations are of one mind: that such a move is neither desirable in principle nor workable on the ground.

Senior Police Officers should be free to devote their time and energy to policing, not distracted by running for elected office. The demands of campaigning would be with an officer, day in day out, ever mindful of satisfying populist concerns, rather than being able to assess the bigger strategic picture of local and regional policing, that senior rank requires.

Do we really want to go the way of America?  US television viewers are bombarded on local networks by campaigning police chiefs eager for re-election and looking to score a quick hit. Heaven forbid that such a scenario could bring back hanging.  Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police told the BBC only this month that senior officers should be wary of media hype and that it was: “important not to be a celebrity, not to be a personality.”

Whatever transpires, let’s hope it’s not Nick Griffin or Esther Rantzen who end up running your local police force.

Amanda Ramsay was a Labour Cabinet Member on Merton Borough Council.

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5 Responses to “Amanda Ramsay is not impressed by elected police chiefs”

  1. Chris says:

    Tremendous writing. What a superbly written and coherant article.

  2. Atsuko says:


    I read Amanda’s article from Japan and sent a challenge to her comments but I got the message back that my message needed to be modified, please advise. I am sending this through my friend Maureen.

  3. Amanda Ramsay says:

    Thank you Atsuko, what was the point of challenge?

  4. Amanda Ramsay says:

    yes, just look at what has happened in USA, it is not something that anyone who cares about law and order, let alone democratic society with essential separation of powers and checks and balances would desire…it is madness and open to bad policing decisions and even corruption

  5. Alison Moise says:

    The experience so far of elected police chiefs in this country was the Middlesbrough mayor and former “Robocop”, Ray Mallon, who was once held up as a role model for the 21st-century British policeman – and who was courted by a succession of politicians, including the Home Secretaries Michael Howard and Jack Straw and now the new Prime Minister, David Cameron. Tony Blair actually chose to have his final photo-call before the 1997 general election at Middlesbrough police station with Ray Mallon and his team. According to a press report, “…Mallon was the man who introduced the concept of “zero tolerance” policing to Britain – and was dubbed “RoboCop” for his success in clearing crime from the streets…” Ultimately, we need to bring about better policing that works to prevent crime not just reacts to crime incidents, most certainly the idea of elected police chiefs will not fizzle away, so on that note, I leave you with this in mind, in 1964, Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the United States, said that ‘every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves; what is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on’.

    Amanda Ramsay’s points out the dangers of elected police chiefs system and uses the USA as an example of what can go seriously wrong if we go a system of electing police commissioners. It brings to my mind visions of the Science Fiction character Robocop. The story goes like this, “…The city of Detroit, Michigan is on the verge of collapse due to financial ruin and unchecked crime. The mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products enters into a contract with the city to run the police force while the company makes plans to destroy “Old Detroit”. RoboCop is guided by three prime directives written into his programming: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. He is able to single-handedly deal with much of the violent crime in the city, causing the rest of the police force to become worried they may be replaced…” Is this what the police fear here in the UK, being replaced by some super police lone ranger. The political debate continues to centre on how to make our police more accountable to the public because currently they are unaccountable despite the roll out of Safer Neighbourhood Teams across the country.After all it is still evident from past case histories highlighted by the media over the last few years that the force starting from top down is riddled with systemic communication problems , the police were savaged after the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and over Soham and Stephen Lawrence, and blamed for being too slow to respond to the plight of many families who complain of being tormented by acts of anti social behaviour.

    My point is this, even before the coaliton Government proposed this plan to introduce to elected police chiefs the previous Labour government has been very interested in the police, with one green and two white papers, manifesto suggestions for more localism and different accountabilities together with no less than eight parliamentary bills centred on policing since 2002.

    Hospitals are not judged solely by the number of beds nor education by the number of teachers: therefore the currency of effective policing should not be judged on the the presumption that by introduction of elected versus appointed system of police chiefs alone, will be the currency of effective policing that the public wants.It has to be said SNTs do create effective policing and are popular with citizens because they get to decide with their local police team what the main three policing priorities should be for the neighbourhood they live and work in. And, yes, it is time to decide what kind of police service we want, sadly I am not yet convinced we will get it through the Tories planned elected police chief system without first concentrating on making sure that policing becomes citizen shaped rather than producer shaped. SNTs created effective policing that produced reals results in reducing crime in our communities simply because residents had the power to decide what their local police team’s main three policing priorities for the neighbourhood ought to be. It works but stands alone.

    X Happy Birthday Amanda, remember mine was two days ago.

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