11/12/2012 11:44 GMT | Updated 10/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Police Crime Commissioners and the Dangers of 'Personality' Policing

Now they've been sworn into office, the new Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) face a challenging task ahead.

Top of the 'to do' list is cutting crime and putting victims first, a pledge in the election manifesto of many candidates.

I've been a victim of crime so I know just how devastating the impact can be. Twice I've been burgled and both crimes I strongly suspect were fuelled by addiction.

PCCs need to do something urgently to break the cycle of crime fuelled by drug and drink addiction.

However, the solutions to addiction-related crime don't just lie in simply punishing offenders by sending them to prison. Instead, they lie in offering effective treatment and in providing people with jobs and a roof over their head.

PCCs have a crucial role to play in the future of drug and alcohol treatment services. Along with the ability to hire and fire the chief constable, PCCs will decide policing priorities at a local level- and this will have implications for drug and alcohol treatment programmes. From April 2013, PCCs will take control of funding for community safety and the Drug Intervention Programme (or DIP), which provides treatment for drug- misusing offenders in the criminal justice system.

So it's crucial that PCCs are made aware that early intervention works and that training, jobs and housing keep people out of prison.

Health-based treatments also save money. Statistics show that for every £1 spent on drug treatment, £2.50 is saved (Drug Treatment Outcomes Research, Home Office, 2009).

The majority of this money is saved by not putting someone through the criminal justice system, and the rest comes from the reduced burden on the NHS.

So it's a no brainer to suggest that any PCC should be looking for successful partnerships with health that result in winning solutions.

The link between policing and health cannot be ignored and we are hopeful that the successful candidates will use their positions to effect real change in this area.

The danger though is that we end up with 'personality policing' where PCCs respond to the misconception that drug and alcohol addiction are a criminal justice issue, not a health problem.

PCCs will be up for re-election every four years. The difficulty they face is more with the media than with the public. Most people just want the crime rate to go down by any means necessary and accept that effective treatment alongside punishment works when shown the evidence. Yet the media wants people locked-up full stop.

Drug treatment funding should be a priority and PCCs shouldn't be swayed by reactionary opinions on criminal justice. However, the evidence shows that often the old rhetoric of crime and drugs drowns out any informed debate on what really works. The logical evidence is that treatment programmes reduce crime and save money but the political discourse locally may reject this. This may force PCCs to spend their budgets on issues which are vote-winning. Rather than commit their money, they may try to get others such as the NHS to invest their

limited resources on such programmes.

The PCC role is political, and there's political capital to be made about showing you care about victims. But will PCCs know enough to understand that investing in drug treatment will reduce the number of victims?

The danger is that PCCs don't use their budgets to invest in long-term solutions to cutting crime. None of the community safety money is ring-fenced for drug or alcohol treatment so there's nothing to stop PCCs from using the cash, as pressure on policing budgets increases, to fund other police services.

The public have shown their disinterest in electing PCCs through low voter turnout which has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the elections.

But this is irrelevant. Mandate or no mandate, PCCs are in post and hold considerable power. To make a true difference, PCCs should not only be involved in policing but recognise the vital role they can- and must- play when it comes to public health.

This is a major challenge. What they must avoid at all costs is to make political capital out of attacking those on the margins of society. It's important that these individuals have the leadership qualities to see the bigger picture. To quote Henry Kissinger: 'The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not yet been.'

What's needed is a collective voice where PCCs come together as a group to demand better value might have more effect on policy and on the public imagination than individuals grandstanding for their own individual political and community agendas. In that sense, there's an opportunity for a new voice to be heard by politicians of all parties.