In 25 days time England and Wales will elect Police and Crime Commissioners for the first time.
Many are cynical that this will politicize high level decisions by the Police, which it will almost certainly will to some extent, but mostly people seem indifferent or simply unaware.
Me. I hoped that the candidates would not be politically aligned with parties, that we could judge them based on their policies and priorities, not because they are connected to the party we usually vote for. But this was always nothing but naive.
I think the way we split central and locally run services/government in England could be improved, so I approach all change with an open mind to see if it will improve this. Too much centralised; local councils no more than under funded basic service providers with almost no power and at the whim of central Government control. Secondly, But there are key services which seem to slip through a democratic gap between the two, the Police and Health being examples.
Who do you hold to account for local Policing? What do you do if it is not up to scratch? Your local councillors? MP?
Sussex Police, my local police force, covers two geographical Counties (East Sussex and West Sussex), and three local authorities (East Sussex, West Sussex, Brighton and Hove City). It is overseen, until next month, by the Sussex Police Authority.
There is a weak link between my local councillor (who I obviously can vote for) and the Sussex Police Authority: There seems to be just one Brighton & Hove City Councillor on the SPA. He isn’t from my ward, so I do not directly elect anyone who oversees Sussex Police. I can ask my local councillors to raise an issue with our representative, or I could try contacting him directly, but I have no come back if he ignores me. I could write to my MP, but she has no real power, just soft power due to her status. There’s no direct line between people who I elect and those who oversee the Police Authority.
This may seem academic, but the general idea of democracy is that you have some power to elect those who are making decisions on your behalf. For what it is worth, I think the situation is worse with Health (the people who oversee your local Hospital are probably not even local elected officials, your council and MP have no say at all if your local hospital closes).
So, elected Police Commissioners do make the line of accountability very clear: the good folk of Sussex, including myself, elect a Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner. If they don’t do the things I want (or do the things I think they shouldn’t) then I have the right to not vote for them.
However it does obviously lead to the risk of politicalising the Police force and going for populist policies (which may sound great but may not actually lead to a safer environment).
It does seem quite rare, with only the USA being the obvious example of a country with something similar. For info, France, Sweden and Italy mostly have a national Police force (or several of them) rather than local Police forces, they do have small local forces but they have limited powers. Germany and Canada have State and Regional forces. Oh, and to add to the mix, we are getting a National Crime Agency soon as well – which will probably help with more complex crime, and potentially help the odd situation that the Metropolitan Police act both as the Police for London, and as a national force for serious incidents such as terrorism (even though Scotland proudly has a separate legal system and government, it was the Met who dealt with the car bomb at Glasgow Airport).
So, here are some links
- Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner website
- List of Candidates for Sussex
- The Home Office have set up choosemyPCC website – which is light on information, and has some dubious pictures of ‘scary people’ doing bad things – including smashing the glass of a phone booth, which I feel I should inform younger readers this was something of an issue in the eighties, but perhaps shows (a) how in touch the Home Office are (b) the sort of things they want us to be worried about
- police.uk has a nice site, which seems to have a similar feel to the new (and excellent) gov.uk. It provides stats and data for your area which is quite interesting, by selecting the map you can see pinpoints of specific crimes in your area.
Candidate Manifestos’ should be on the choosemyPCC site from the 26th October. I’m going to have a think about what’s important to me before then and then see how they compare.
UPDATE 6th November
The Brighton Argus has a section on the election with more information
UPDATE 12th November
First I want to mention a Radio 4 documentary which covers the Police. As I mention above some countries, such as France have one national Police force, where as other (and most) have local forces. The documentary covers that Scotland is moving to just one Police force, mostly to save back office costs and to save duplication in specialist services. It looks out reducing the number of Police forces in England too. Worth a listen if you are interested.
I also want to highlight this interview with four of the Sussex PCC candidates and this blog post, much better than mine about the Cambridge PCC.
Who am i going to vote for?
I said above that I was cynical of the political nature of these elections and therefore I am pleased to say, based on look through manifestos and aims:
I am going to vote for Ian Chisnall, an independent candidate for the Sussex PCC.
I like his independence, he has avoided simplistic media-friendly claims about bobbies on the beat and tackling young people in hoodies causing a nuisance. One of his priorities is “Abuse including Domestic Violence, Hate Crime & Trafficking” which I agree with, and another is “Anxiety, the fear of crime and support for Victims of Crime – Sussex is an area with low levels of crime but not all of us feel safe” I feel there is a disparity of between people’s perception of certain crimes and their actual levels and this is a useful acknowledgement of that. There’s no point in directing limited Police resources to issues which are more about perception than real crime. He seemed to approach this with a positive approach to Sussex Police, unlike some of the other ‘must drive efficiency and savings through’ that others are taking.
Of the others, the Godfrey Daniels – the Labour candidate – stood up well. He had experience and a pragmatic approach. The Lib Dem candidate had the most limited website and it didn’t really aspire. The Tory candidate, had business experience, presumably useful when dealing with budgets, but seemed to focus on rural and business crime, do the residents of Sussex really want the Police to priorities a theft from Primark over other things. I also found her pledge for a Special Police Constable in each village dubious, would we attract the right number, and calibre of person to act as a Special, and isn’t it just a form of unpaid intern.
Finally, I’d like to complain about the Home Office advertising campaign, which you can find here. Look at the names: vandal, burglar, mugger. These all seem to focus on one area of crime, and I can’t help feeling that by advertising it in such a way, people will approach these elections thinking about them regarding this one area (without sounding flippant: street, common crime). No mention of domestic abuse, or dangerous driving, or serious fraud, or questions of liberty. To me these adverts set the frame of what these elections are about and therefore were advantageous to those who are standing for election and empathised such crimes. The Home Office should have been more broad in the advertising.
In any case, I urge you to vote this week, even if you disagree with the principle of these elections. And if you are in Sussex, and you don’t know who to vite for, I urge you to vote for independent candidate Ian Chisnall.