According to Wikipedia: “A police and crime commissioner (PCC) is an elected official in England and Wales charged with securing efficient and effective policing of a police area. Commissioners replaced the now-abolished police authorities. The first incumbents were elected on 15 November 2012 to serve for three-and-a-half years, but subsequent Commissioners are to be elected for four-year terms.”
According to the government’s own website: “PCCs are elected to make sure that local police meet the needs of the community”. We are then encouraged to “contact your local PCC about:
- how your area is policed
- the police budget
- the amount of Council Tax charged for the police
- the information you get about what the local police are doing”
The reason I am blogging about the subject now is that in three weeks time we are being invited to vote for the person we wish to be the PCC for our own area. Policing is also an area that interests me, particularly since I became a full time community activist at the turn of the millennium. Most agree that while economics may well be the one area that stands out as a particular concern for most of us, not far behind is the desire to live and go about business in peace and safety, and in this regards the Police has an important part to play. I have often found that when it comes to knowing and working with one’s community the Police have a vital role to play and play it. I recall many positive past engagements, which is why prior to the 2012 election I was part of an Independent Advisory Group (IAG).
When those first elections did take place, I took an interest in what is going on even though I was not convinced that the politically motivated move to change the way we make police accountable was necessarily going to be an improvement on what has gone on before. Unlike this time round, there were quite a few hustings and other ways to find out about and engage with the candidates that were standing, which is sadly noticeably absent this time round. I was disappointed that the one I felt to be the right person for the job did not get in and it appeared, given that most of the other candidates were linked to one or other party, that for most voting was done mainly based on that individual’s party preferences.
Regarding the current incumbent, who is about to stand down, I am ambivalent as to how good he has been in the role and am reluctant to comment on whether or not he has done a good job or whether the PCC idea has been a success and/or improvement on what preceded it, as this is not an area I have been particularly following. He came in at a particularly difficult time, as the government austerity measures were beginning to bite and the police like many aspects of the public sector have borne the brunt, evidenced in the reduction in its numbers and, importantly, as far as I am concerned the considerable reduction in community policing. While the commissioner cannot be entirely blamed for deterioration in service, I feel he could have done more to fight the police corner and has missed a trick by apparently ignoring community aspects. While IAGs were not particularly effective, noticeably this along with other ways to work more closely with the public, especially those with specialist knowledge is not happening when it could and should.
I have no doubt, regardless as to whether the PCC system is effective or not, it is still relevant and we do well to vote intelligently (although sadly given the lack of information being banded about and I suspect general public apathy this may not mainly be the case). But like any democratic institution, we are at least provided an opportunity to have our say. After all, any entity that controls budgets and to which operational staff are accountable, and which has the potential of drawing the staff under them and the public they serve closer together, cannot be discounted, regardless of how well they function. This brings me to the candidates in the May 5th election. A booklet, available online, helpfully describes the process and who is standing, briefly along with their agendas. I only know one of the candidates, Martin Terry, the only Independent (albeit with a strange label “Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief” – something that Martin would do well to explain if he wants honest people to vote for him). As for the rest I still know next to nothing and while all have interesting things to say, I would still like elaboration.
The statement at the start of his website: “Keeping big party politics out … A relentless focus on those who blight our lives; anti-social louts, violent bullies, burglars and those who deal drugs to our young people. We will seize the profits of their crime” does not especially resonate or states clear enough what I feel needs doing, but Martin is at least the devil I know and, having checked out the other candidates, none of them stand out or give me the impression they are especially in it for reasons other than career advancement or can bring anything exceptional to the party. In my few dealings over the years and observing Martin from a distant while (these days) operating as a Cabinet member of Southend Borough Council, I have not always seen eye to eye and found him a bit pompous (although some of the other candidates may be worse in this regard), and annoyingly he doesn’t always respond to my emails, but in the main I have felt him approachable, communicative, honest, hard working, fair and focused on the job. Unless things change, although I will be surprised if much more light will be cast on what the others stand for or can bring to the party these next few weeks, I will be voting for Martin, hoping that it won’t be the kiss of death.