I recently read an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper titled 'Crime policy and bonfire of central control,' which looked at the characters angling for the powerful positions of Police and Crime Commissioners, or PCC's. I have shared my views and concerns on PCCs since they were proposed back in July 2010 and this article has reignited some of those thoughts.
Handing power from central government over to a handful of individuals to set plans, hire and fire chief officers, including chief constable, and manage the multi-million pound police budget without any pilot scheme is a risky business. Tom Brake claimed that he would push for PCCs to be piloted to assess any pitfalls but this has not yet happened. Instead so much power will simply be handed over to so few without any real understanding of how it may work.
PCCs will be able to set their own policing priorities and targets locally rather than receiving them nationally from the Home Secretary and whilst I certainly agree that there are different problems in different areas which need to be policed differently, I am concerned about the lack of overall governmental guidance and standards. There is even talk about the PCC having responsibility for justice and sentencing. But how can one individual bear all this responsibility? All you need to do is look at the pressure Bernard Hogan-Howe is under.
And who are these individuals? The Guardian mentions the hope for a 'kaleidoscope of colourful characters' and gives Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross and Iraq battlefield orator colonel Tim Collins as two vying for the position in Kent.
However I am fearful that we will see anything but a kaleidoscope of colourful characters. While there are calls for independent candidates, the majority of these will be party-backed and I have to question the nature of such political backing. Politicisation of some level is inevitable and I am fearful politics will override the importance of policing. Would policing be compromised for the sake of electoral votes?
Police Authorities have been accused of being invisible time and time again by the Government but I have to question how important this is. I believe you can still do a good job without being in front of the camera all the time and while accountability is no bad thing, I am concerned about the pressures that will be placed upon these individuals; pressures that could lead to attempts to exert influence over operational policing matters. To give one example, how would a PCC deal with the Dale Farm scenario? People would expect him or her to be visible at the location but what if they were to compromise operational policing for the sake of 'visibility'?
The PCC's are also likely to cost a whopping £130million, the same amount the Ministry of Justice needs to find after scrapping changes to its sentencing policy or the equivalent of approximately 750 officers nationally. At a time when we are witnessing unprecedented cuts to our budget, I find it quite shocking and shameful that the government is willing to spend this much money on something that is not absolutely necessary.
I do not want people to think I am completely against Police and Crime Commissioners per se, but I am concerned that like everything else, the government is making changes for changes sake without any real thought, consultation or piloting behind it. I agree that the police service is dated and we have called for a Royal Independent Commission for years now, but I do not think that a quick-fix change is the solution. Policing is too important to get wrong and the government is playing with people's lives.