What next for the Police Commissioner model?
The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the police forces, especially in London. First there was the phone hacking scandal that led to the resignation of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Then there were riots on the streets of London and other major cities which the police were seemingly slow to react to. In light of this one of our favourite guest bloggers asks what the effect of the past few months might be on the Government’s proposals for elected police commissioners.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2011 is proposing to replace Police Authorities with directly elected Police Commissioners. The soon to be replaced police authorites are currently comprised of local government Councillors and co-opted Independent Members.
At work a couple of months back I speculated with a colleague about whether the Police Bill might suffer the same procedural delays that the Health Bill had. His view was that it was less controversial with the public and the political classes.
That was in the Spring and of course, the police have since had a roller coaster few months. First the public opprobrium arising from the phone hacking scandal and now public concerns about civic unrest. My question is have these two events impacted on the debate regarding the elected police commission model?
Ahead of the recent riots there were some political responses that might show that political support is weakening.
1) In response to a query regarding why officials did not pass on briefings from Yates of the Yard to David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt stated that:
We don’t know exactly what it was the John Yates wanted to brief him (Cameron) about, but we do know it appears that it was about operational police matters and there is a very strong convention in this country under the separation of powers, Politicians don’t involve themselves in operational police matters, so that the police are in no way compromised.
How does this stack against the proposal to directly elect police commissioners?
2) In a recent letter to the Times, following a similar approach to previous issues, senior local Liberal Democrat politicians have called for the model to be scrapped.
3) News that the Conservatives are considering whether they will bother putting forward official candidates. Is that because they don’t want the expense, and if they don’t (considering the parties relative financial health) who will?
I have seen no mention, bar a few tweets, as to whether a police commissioner would have helped or hindered how the police dealt with the riots. However, with Boris Johnson recently stating that the government should ‘look again’ at the proposals to cut the police budgets could this strengthen the argument for at least postponing the implementation of this new governance model with its attendant costs on Councils and Police Forces.
The challenges outlined above, aligned to those provided by the current troubles of the Met, could raise concerns over the police commissioner model.
The policy however, is well on its way to implementation and under the proposed timetable we will be having our first elections for police commissioners in May 2012
Any elected police commissioners will need to be relevant, legitimate and locally inspiring if they are to be effective. The perceived crises in the police may help the public to get engaged in the elections but if local politicians don’t engage with the process, or set their face against it there is a very real risk that the model will fail before it starts.
There are no plans to delay or abandon the model but following recent reports in the Times that Senior Lib Dems in parliament are concerned that ‘now is not the time’ to spend an estimated £150m on elections that some don’t want and others don’t want to stand for, may make the Government pause for thought.
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