Elected Police and Crime Commissioners

Hands up if you can name the chairman of your police authority. If you are eagerly grasping the air at this point, you must be a keen student of local government – a 2007 survey found that 94 per cent of people could not.

Frankly, if you even know what police authorities do, or rather are supposed to do, you are doing pretty well. Technically, they are responsible for appointing (and, if necessary, dismissing) chief constables, and for setting the strategic direction, and budget, for policing in their local area; but most people would surely assume such things were driven by Home Office directives, if not the home secretary herself.

Public satisfaction levels with the police have fallen substantially in recent years. And more worryingly, those people who had contact with their local police rated them more negatively than those who had not had contact. These findings contrast with those from other public services: for example, direct users of schools and hospitals tend to rate those services higher than the public as a whole. When allied to statistics that show the gap between actual and perceived levels of crime increasing, and that far more British people are worried about crime and violence than Americans, it is clear that something is wrong.

So what’s the problem? It’s certainly not lack of money that’s to blame – the UK spends far more on law and order as a proportion of total government spending than any other country in the OECD except the US. The answer is a fundamental mismatch between the policing that communities want and what they get.

The public want more visible ‘beat’ policing, but successive cadres of police management have flatly ignored these wishes. The public also think the police have inappropriate priorities and are unduly concerned with serious incidents at the expense of less serious incidents and problems. But that’s because chief constables look upwards to Whitehall, not down to communities.
Even the last Labour government – not noted for its decentralising instincts – finally proposed the creation of “a clear and powerful public voice in [police] decision-making through directly-elected representatives”. The fact that it chickened out when faced with the self-interested lobbying of chief constables doesn’t change the fact that it was right.

The system doesn’t work, policing lacks local accountability, and it’s time that local people had a real say over the policing in their area.

 

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