“Elected police chiefs [Police and Crime Commissioners] are eccentric, not that bright or bleeding hopless say officers”

Owl says: the trenchant article suggests reform of the PCC role – but oversight by committee (the former arrangement), although it had its flaws, worked better. What the article does not say is that inadequate PCCs fall back on anonymous paid staff (such as their next-in-command highly paid Career CEOs)to do their work for them, then falling happily themselves into a mostly ceremonial role while trousering the substantial salaries.

“The post of police and crime commissioner is six years old and wearing its age poorly. As few as one in ten voters can name their commissioners. An innovation that was supposed to revive local democracy and strengthen police accountability has not achieved either goal. Instead, too often, commissioners have repaid low turnout at the polls with low-calibre performances in office.

Commissioners set the strategic priorities of every police force outside London and are subject to little real oversight. They can hire and fire chief constables without so much as writing down their reasons. This may have more to do with politics and personalities than the public good.

A report commissioned by the National Police Chiefs’ Council now adds to the perception of commissioners as a failing experiment in two ways. It quotes senior sources describing most of the country’s commissioners as variously “eccentric”, “not that bright” and “bleeding hopeless”; and it blames them in part for a serious shortfall in applicants for chief constables’ jobs.

Admittedly the author of this report, a serving police superintendent, may not be wholly impartial. Nor should anyone be surprised to see tensions in the relationship between senior police officers and those elected to supervise their work. The document is significant nonetheless. To perform the role envisaged for them commissioners need the trust of the public and also of police. In many forces they plainly do not have it.

The idea of vesting broad police oversight powers in a single elected figure was inspired by compelling stories from both sides of the Atlantic. Rudy Giuliani, as mayor of New York, promised and delivered zero tolerance on crime. Ray Mallon achieved a similar transformation as elected mayor of Middlesbrough. David Cameron and Theresa May took up the theme in the early years of the coalition, hoping to replace unelected Police Authorities with dynamic public figures.

Disappointment set in early. Turnout for the first elections of commissioners in 2012 was a miserable 15 per cent. Most candidates were white and male. One who was not, Ann Barnes in Kent, undermined the credibility of the scheme with a disastrous TV interview in which she was unable to explain her role. Shaun Wright, in South Yorkshire, clung on to the job even when his failure to act in the Rotherham child sex grooming scandal became clear. Others have misused taxpayers’ money, removed chief constables without sufficient explanation and replaced them without casting their nets wide enough. Where commissioners have proved too easily cowed by senior officers the results are no less damaging. At least one chief constable who should have been censured for egregious misjudgments in an investigation was allowed instead to move smoothly up the career ladder.

One successful commissioner, former Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader, said towards the end of his four-year term that he would not seek re-election because he saw the job as akin to “a last tour of duty”. The remark points to a fundamental problem. Commissioners will never gain public confidence if they are regarded as time-servers at the end of their careers.

The 2013 Stevens report on policing recommended abolishing commissioners, but its proposed replacement was too complex and costly. Local democratic police oversight is as vital as ever. Elected commissioners can provide it, but a new balance of power is needed between the public and police. This can be achieved by giving voters the option of recall elections to remove commissioners who are manifestly failing; and by requiring commissioners to follow a clear written process when exercising their power to fire a chief constable. When that power is misused it should be the commissioner who pays, not the public.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

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