Sunday, 21 August 2011

Police Crime Commissioners: what might be in their manifestos

Events of the last few weeks have thrown into relief the issue of police leadership and just how political their job can be at times. Debates have been raging at the highest political levels and widely discussed in the media about accountability and professional practice. In the middle of this maelstrom, the Government has stuck with its plans to introduce politically elected Police Crime Commissioners. Whilst not yet on the statute book, we can probably expect the legislation to be whipped through Parliament as swiftly as possible so that the elections for these new police leaders can happen as planned next May.

All this has prompted me to think about the issues that might be addressed in manifestos of the candidates – and what the electors might be interested to know about, before casting their votes. I would expect the local police officers and staff would have an interest too. 

So here is my ‘template’ manifesto for this new kind of political police leader:

There is a huge and complex matter about the distinction between operational & strategic command and political direction and accountability. I would expect that any candidate for the position of one of the PCCs to make very clear just what kind of influence they expect to bring to and exert on the local police service. Some of this of course will be determined by statute, but any candidate worth their salt will be able to describe how they plan to play their part in the leadership of the local police service and not just in times of crisis, but also day to day. 

One of the criticisms of the existing police authorities is that they have not managed to engage with their publics well enough. Some PAs have been better than others of course but the overall level of awareness of their existence and role is not as high as it should be – certainly in the eyes of the Government. Therefore, a candidate for the role of PCC, should be able to articulate just what they will do differently and how their engagement with local communities will be a step change for the better. They will need to state clearly, in my opinion, how they will fairly represent the views of the many diverse communities who will be electing them. 

As we have seen evidence of in recent times, there is the massive issue about deployment of resources. I would expect any candidate for the post of a local Police Crime Commissioner to say what will guide them in influencing how the police service allocates its resources. Again this cannot only be during times of crisis but also (and more importantly) during the everyday job of tackling crime. I would hope that the candidates will address the conundrum already being faced by police services up and down the country: how do you balance resources between areas where people are most at risk of harm (and where people are often less vocal about the need for ‘bobbies on the beat’) with areas where crime is much lower but fear and concern about crime and anti-social behaviour is much higher (and often articulated loudly). 

Crime prevention is often something of a poor cousin in police circles. It might be said by many officers and staff that the needs to respond to calls for help will always be paramount and therefore long term measures to prevent crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime will naturally come second. However I think the issue goes deeper than this and touches on some quite embedded elements of police culture. I would hope that the manifestos of the PCC candidates will tackle this issue head on and say how they plan to boost prevention and work strategically with the police (and many other partner agencies) to do what can be done to create communities that are sustainably infused with the Queen’s Peace.

Finally, there is the matter of professional practice. Unlike many other public professions (and I am thinking here of medicine, teaching, probation, social work and nursing), policing practice is near the beginning of being an evidence based pursuit. Often what police officers do is determined by precedence or custom and practice rather than evidence based research. Just as you would not expect to be offered a treatment by a doctor that had not been reliably tested, it is also the case that police practice should be similarly informed by what works (and what does not). The Neyroud report published earlier this year went into length about the need to establish policing as profession based on evidence based practice. In line with this, surely any candidate for the post of PCC (who will be responsible for the effective, efficient and economic running of local police service) must be able to express a view about the vital matter. I hope that every manifesto published will discuss the importance of building police practice around good research and everyday learning.

No doubt the manifestos will mention many other matters in addition to these – ones that reflect the particular concerns of local people and the crime challenges in the local police area. These could be very interesting political campaigns!


  1. Anonymous27/8/11 17:31

    I don't know why you feel that it is police culture not to want to prevent crime? After the preservation of life it's the most important thing that we do

  2. Thanks for your comment Anon. I would say in response that I did not say that I "feel that it is police culture not to want to prevent crime". I think there is a clear wish in police culture to do this as it very important as you highlight - but often the resources do not follow this desire. Also I observe that the 'Crime Prevention Officer' roles are often not given as much status as that of criminal investigation for example.

  3. Dr Huw Evans has also responded on his blog - go here for his thoughts and my response.

  4. My response to Huw's comments:

    - I agree, PCCs will need to hit the ground running and be a couple of steps ahead of the more wily Chief Constables (or is 'wily CC' a tautology!?)
    - PCCs will require extra resources methinks - as the current plans seem to include a body not dissimilar from existing PAs as well. As such they are an extra. Time will tell if the extra they cost will bring valuable benefits in terms of effectiveness and efficiency
    - absolutely agree - we need to boost truly proactive policing - and not just call reactive policing by another name. Never forget that the NIM was introduced with no research into its effectiveness in Kent in its previous incarnation. I know that Cardiff have done some research into the NIM since - but I am not sure how much...
    - Peter Neyroud's work was only ever going to part of the story - I would expect he would agree with me on that. But I absolutely stand by his recommendation that policing should be a reflective and evidence based profession.
    - again - agree - we need to find ways of introducing more public debate and action on the key dilemmas facing policing as representative democracy often does fall short
    - I think PCCs offer an opportunity to refresh how the police service 'sees' its publics - and whilst practical operational & day to day policing must not be politicised - the decisions about where to deploy resources are reasonably within the domain political discourse. Just as with health - it is a political decision to invest in either more machines that go ping or more chiropody for older people (for example).
    - rest of the CJS - possibly - should we be electing judges too? (Lights blue touch paper.....)

    Thanks for all your comments.

  5. Dr Mark Kilgallon25/2/12 10:43

    It is good to see comments about PCC's that does NOT focus on the personality of the individual but on their policies. Jon, you continue to ask difficult questions of potential candidates and hopefully the National press, at some point will see the importance of this. The focus on an evidenced based approach in selecting PCC's is absolutely appropriate. I think people should also think carefully about how a PCC's policies may directly impact on operational delivery. Some chiefs (and political rhetoric) may still believe that they are solely in 'operational' control, but I think this is quite nieve - and even now is not always the case. With the need for PCC's to be re-elected Chiefs and their top teams will have to have an even closer handle on operational independence and political inquisitiveness. I predict the retirement of a number of current policing leaders who will find this new system unpalatable. Some may see this as a good thing - but a loss of experience, particularly in the complex world of policing, is not good for any system of law enforcement.