On the 6th May, as voters, we have the opportunity to take part in another round of elections. We know and understand local elections and what they are all about. However, at the same time, we can vote for the next Police and Crime Commissioner. What do people know about the role and what they are voting for?
On the basis of the last two such elections held in 2012 and 2016 it would appear that the vast majority of us know very little about them and care even less sadly. Indeed, I was interviewed as part of a news feature screened on the BBC S.E. Today programme on 14th April. Unfortunately, whilst it was an opportunity missed in my opinion to better inform the voters about what is at stake, the most concerning thing was that of those members of the public interviewed, not one knew anything about PCCs and their role!
PCCs were the “brainchild” of the coalition government elected in 2010. They replaced the former Police Authorities which had operated effectively for many years. It is very difficult to keep politics out of the discussion regarding PCCs. The original concept was, on the face of it, sound. Individuals locally elected to hold chief constables to account for the delivery of policing services is arguably, a good thing.
However, over the two previously held elections, all but a very few of those elected to the role have been politicians from the two main parties i.e. Labour and the Conservatives. Whilst the previous Police Authorities had a number of local councilors as part of its membership, part of their make-up consisted of independent individuals. To me, the whole thing has been a blatant attempt by the government to politicize policing.
This is a quite appalling development in my opinion. Under no circumstances should policing be influenced by political allegiances. Additionally, the costs of running the PCC’s empire in Sussex is £1.6 million per annum. That dwarfs the costs of the former Police Authority. It is also hugely dangerous in my view to have one individual effectively directing the Chief Constable regardless of any political preferences. The lines of accountability for PCCs is also somewhat lax. They report to a body known as the Police and Crime Panel, the majority of whose membership consists of local councilors with only one or two independents.
There is much more that I could say in describing the role of the PCCs. However, it is probably best that people research this for themselves. My purpose in writing this is to ensure that readers at least have a basic understanding of the role.
The most important thing is that people take the opportunity to vote this time. The average turn out previously has been 15% which is woeful. I have included here some points which I believe should be areas for the prospective candidates to consider:
· To operate on behalf of the residents of Sussex rather than having half an eye to political allegiances.
· Leave all operational matters and any reporting involving these to the Chief Constable and her officers. The PCC should be operating in an effective way in the background and should not be the public face of policing.
· To rely less on surveys in order to understand the priorities of the public of Sussex. The majority of the surveys held to date have been so basic as to be meaningless and therefore everything becomes a priority which is unworkable.
· Less focus on national issues which have little impact on the public of Sussex and more on the day to day crimes and incidents which do affect them. There needs to be a balance in terms of priority because currently officers struggle to have the time to investigate volume crime such as burglary and assaults which negatively impacts on a lot more people.
· Less use of government funding for projects which practically produce few if any positive outcomes and a greater transparency and public reporting of what the outcomes actually are i.e. has value for money been provided. The public want this funding to be spent on visible policing and not the creation of quangos and talking shops.
· An even handed approach to different community groups rather than appearing to favour certain ones.
· Accountability meetings between the PCC and Chief Constable should be held in private rather than public. To date these have been shown on line and the whole thing becomes a charade in so far as the PCC appears to be saying, “Here you are, I am holding the CC to account”. This should not be a game with pre – prepared questions and answers.
· To be prepared to challenge the Home Office and central Government in order to benefit the residents of Sussex.
My plea therefore is simply this. Make sure that you, the readers, look up the potential candidates on line and see what they are proposing to bring to the role and then ensure you vote on the 6th May!
Retired Detective Chief Superintendent, Sussex Police