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Police and Crime Commissioner: An Impossible Job?

Posted on the 02 November 2012 by Minimumcover @minimumcover

Guest Blog by Criminology Student – CrimeStudent Blog. If you like what you read then please support them by following @crimstudentblog on Twitter:

Making notes on the accountability of policing yesterday, I came across the following idea in an Article by Millen and Stevens on police authorities. Basically, it set out the four elements they felt were needed to provide proper public accountability. In view of the PCC elections which are now just over a fortnight away, this got me thinking about whether it would be possible for PCCs to actually fulfill all of these criteria. The criteria are that the institution/individual (in this case the PCC) have the following:

- Sufficient expertise

- Adequate Knowledge of the role, and it’s mechanisms of leverage

- Sufficient checks and balances to negate undue influence

- The institution must have the resource capacity to deliver

Looking at these in turn, the sufficient expertise requirement is possibly the most variable by candidate. The candidates range from ex-police officers to career politicians, and therefore there is no single expertise level. Research conducted earlier this year showed that the majority of the public wanted apolitical, former police candidates, but in many of the 41 force areas, there are only political candidates. For example, in Dyfed-Powys, there are only Labour and Conservation candidates standing. This makes it very unlikely that the PCC for this area will have much expertise on policing, thereby damaging their ability to fulfill their role.

Of course, this role itself is not entirely clear as it is. Many PCC candidates seem to be unaware of what powers they will have, as evidenced by some of the pledges they have made. For example, one candidate has called for the return of the death penalty, which is so far out of the remit of a PCC it does make you wonder whether the candidate in question has any awareness of what they will actually be able to do. So that appears to be a massive no to the second criteria.

The third criteria is possible the least easy to talk about, as, even when compared to the role of the PCC, the role of the Police and Crime Panel seems to be even more opaque. This obviously makes it difficult to talk about whether this will provide the adequate checks and balances needed, and so I will leave that point.

However, and crucially, the last point is the resource capacity of the institution in question, in this case, the Police. Many bloggers have blogged about the issues with manning levels, but suffice it to say that to fulfill many of the PCC candidates pledges to deal with ASB with current officer numbers will be incredibly difficult (Not only due to raw numbers, but due to the numbers in specialist or back-office teams). In some ways, PCCs can be seen to be being set up for a fall, by being brought in during a time of 20% budget cuts. Cynical observers may even go as far as to say that they are being brought in to provide political cover for the government’s cuts, as rises in crime rates can be blamed on the PCCs policies.

Overall then, I have sympathy for those going for the role. It is looking more and more likely that successful candidate will be elected on the back of an unprecedentedly low turnout, which will damage their claim to a democratic mandate, and their limited powers, which have not been adequately explained to the public, will make it very difficult for them to retain public support. For this reason, I think it may prove to be the case that PCCs are on to a hiding for nothing, and I wish them all the best of luck. We may not have had the chance to vote for whether we wanted them, but as we are now stuck with them, it seems to me that we must hope they can make a success of the role.


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