Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Is it really a good idea to have elected Police and Crime Commissioners?

It has been slightly over a year since the inaugural Police and Crime Commissioner elections. That was the first time ever that police bosses were elected, and the elections were introduced to replace what the government referred to as being "Invisible" Police Authorities. But a year onward, the BBC conducted a survey which found that 35 percent of people did not even know whether or not they had a Police or Crime Commissioner in their area, and only 7% of people could actually name their local Police and Crime Commissioner. This apathy is not just found amongst normal people or voters, but also amongst politicians. There was major embarrassment for the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who apparently did not even know the name of his Local Police and Crime Commissioner. But what are Police and Crime Commissioners anyway? PCCs are elected representatives who work to ensure that police forces in England and Wales (not including London) are running effectively. They replaced police authorities and are intended to bring a public voice to policing. The government insists PCCs are not there to run local police forces but to hold them to account and respond to the needs of the public. However, more often than not, it has been the PCCs who have had to be held to account, rather than Local Police forces.

Commissioners hold the police to account - rather than running local police forces.

  The lack of public and political enthusiasm for the PCCs was reflected with the appalling turnout at last years PCC elections, which averaged 14% across England and Wales, breaking the record for the lowest peacetime turnout in an election that had been held previously by the 2009 European Elections. It could be argued that on such a low turnout the PCCs do not have a popular mandate. If they were doing a good job then this criticism would not be justified: However ever since those elections there have been resignations, corruption scandals, and scandalous expenses claims. The PCC elections were seen as a way of making police bosses more accountable and less invisible, however one year on the bosses remain as invisible as ever. What is even worse is that they now have a £100,000 job and a limitless pot of expenses paid for by the taxpayer that they can abuse to their hearts content. Earlier this year an Ex Conservative county Councillor who is now a PCC, was forced to apologize after claiming more than £4000 in travel expenses. The elections can also empower extremist parties, because of the extremely low turnout and the fact that many people will protest vote for extremist or smaller parties to demonstrate their displeasure of the system- In the 2012 elections the BNP and UKIP came very close to having a PCC elected. Can you imagine a BNP PCC running your local police force? It would be an absolute calamity. This writer believes that PCC elections are an awful idea, and should be scrapped. Local Authorities should take direct control of policing control in their area, and each Local Authority should appoint an extra cabinet member who would be responsible for policing and would be part of a "Grand council" of cabinet members from each local authority that are within Police Authorities, and would directly oversee Policing. Indeed, a report commissioned by Lord Stevens agreed that Police and Crime Commissioners should be scrapped and replaced by a new system where some Police Authorities are merged. This is the only sensible way in which we can actually have Police Forces that really can be held to account by the public

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