ON Thursday, November 15, the nation will go to the polls to elect the country’s first ever Police and Crime Commissioners. Here, the Journal gives provides an ‘idiot’s guide’ to what the role is all about.
Why are police commissioners being introduced now?
The Government wants to put elected heads in charge of police forces across the UK to increase public accountability and confidence in the system.
Despite crime generally falling across the UK for several years, survey after survey shows the public’s perception is that it is not, and crucially, the “fear of crime” remains stubbornly high.
Anyone can stand, but typically most candidates across the UK have links to political parties. The Labour Party has opposed the idea, but has fielded candidates across the country.
So what powers will they have?
The commissioners will be responsible for managing the chief constable and taking them to task if they perform poorly. They will also hire and fire them. They will set the budget by deciding what level of the precept police can take from your council tax bill.
A key part of their role will be setting up a new five-year plan to tackle crime in their force area. They will also be responsible for producing an annual police report.
Will they have a say over day-to-day police operations?
Crucially, no. The chief constable will still be in control of everyday activity for our bobbies on the beat.
What will they be doing the rest of the time?
Under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which is the driver for these elections, they will have to “consult” with victims of crime. This means talking to real-life victims, whether it be over an assault or car theft, to ask them what their experience of the police response was.
How will the commissioners be accountable?
Ultimately, they will be answerable to the general public, as they face a vote every four years much like the same way councillors and MPs do. They will also have to appear before a newly created Police and Crime Panel (PCP), which have to monitor their performance.
The panel can also summon a commissioner to a public hearing and even dismiss them for poor performance following a second opinion from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). But the panel will not scrutinise the role of the force – that will be up to the commissioner.
Where does this leave future police cuts?
This is the great unknown – especially as in West Mercia, an ‘alliance’ has already been agreed with Warwickshire in a bid to save £30 million by 2016. The agreement means both forces will merge a host of back office functions like IT and vehicle fleets, as well as cut around 650 jobs.
Both forces are retaining chief constables and separate officers, and will have separate police and crime commissioners.
THE CANDIDATES ACROSS THE FOUR SHIRES’ FORCES
In West Mercia, Simon Murphy (Labour), Adrian Blackshaw (Conservative) and Bill Longmore (Independent) are the three people standing for the role.
The force covers Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Telford & Wrekin.
In Gloucestershire, the candidates are Victoria Atkins (Cons), Alistair Cameron (Liberal Democrat), Rupi Dhanda (Labour) and Martin Surl (Ind).
In Warwickshire, they are Fraser Pithie (Cons) James Plaskitt (Lab), Ron Ball (Ind).
The candiates in the Thames Valley area, which covers Oxfordshire, are Patience Awe (Ind), Barry Cooper (UKIP), Geoff Howard (Ind), John Howson (Lib Dem), Anthony Standfeld (Cons) and Tim Starkey (Lab).