A year of PCCs

Posted by Bella Sankey on 14 November 2013

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) mark their first year in office today but any celebrations are likely to be muted. With the anniversary comes evidence suggesting extremely limited public support or awareness for PCCs.

A BBC poll found that more than a third of people in England and Wales have no idea if there’s even a PCC in their area, while a YouGov poll found that only 10 per cent of people asked thought that Commissioners gave them more input into how their local area was policed. Only 9 per cent of those asked thought PCCs had contributed to a fall in crime.

It’s not surprising the Government has failed to convince the public on this. Fewer than one in five of us bothered to vote in the PCC elections, and no evidence was ever provided to show need for the reform.

Of course people should have a say in how their neighbourhood is policed, and officers must be accountable to the public. But partisan visibility can easily have the opposite effect - alienating particular communities and undermining credibility.

By rooting police accountability at the ballot box, Ministers have risked politicising policing. Police independence is as fundamental to the Rule of Law as the courts’ neutrality and the judiciary’s independence. It allows everyone to feel protected regardless of race, religion, class or politics. How can such impartiality be maintained now that forces fall under the control of politically-motivated figureheads? PCCs are overwhelmingly white and male – a marked contrast to the previous diversity of Police Authorities.

And with the PCC position tied to the vote, policing priorities will inevitably be skewed by those who shout loudest and in favour of popular demands – risking topics such as antisocial behaviour being elevated above less visible police work vital to tackling crime. This is a particular concern given the staggeringly low elections turnout.

The influential cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee hasn’t been impressed with PCCs so far – expressing worries over their ability to side-step statutory processes for firing Chief Constables and the lack of checks on salaries and standards.

The endeavour has failed. With PCCs representing the interests of millions in some areas, only serious principled reform can ensure those people’s interests are properly safeguarded in future.