PCCs: Powerful, Capable Crime-fighting?
With a 14% average turnout to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012, is it really any wonder that news regarding PCCs has disappeared from the mainstream media and government agenda. Simply put – no one cares; a notion reflected in the poor turnout. However, despite the obvious lack of attention from media outlets the Commissioners, and their £100k pay packets, have been busy at work fulfilling their jobs of helping to guide the police and create that all important community link. Or have they? This article will aim to assess the work of the PCCs up to now, whether they have been effective in aiding communities, or if they’ve been a waste of time and resources.
For many areas, the introduction of PCCs has brought many welcomed changes and benefits. It seems like the majority of the 41 elected have taken their job seriously and introduced schemes, which benefit their community. The PCC for Cheshire, for example, has launched a mobile surgery so that he can speak to people at the heart of the community to find out the main concerns and issues that need to be tackled. Further to this, Avon and Somerset have introduced an online service called ‘TrackMyCrime’ so complainants can track what is happening to their reported crime and receive real time updates from officers. Both of these examples show how the PCCs have made the police part of the community as well as more accessible, fulfilling some of the original aims.
However, as is inevitable there are plenty of criticisms and complaints about the current crop of PCCs. In individual cases there have been claims of expenses fiddling or claiming expenses they were not entitled to. Clive Grunshaw PCC for Lancashire, for example, has been investigated by the IPCC on two occasions for alleged expenses abuse. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded the evidence suggests he was not seeking financial gain because he did not claim on 28 occasions when he could have, despite making 37 incorrect claims elsewhere. But while there were no financial ramifications for Mr Grunshaw, the PCC for Norfolk Stephen Bett had to pay back £3000 that he claimed. Mr Bett amassed a sum of £4947.75 for driving to and from work, something that “did not seem consistent with the objective of his commission which says it cut costs for Norfolk’s police service.” Mr Bett, though still holding the belief that he was entitled to the money decided to pay back some money so as not to “tarnish the reputation of policing in Norfolk.”
Further criticisms include the ability to hire and fire chief constables. This was a power that had received criticism leading to the Home Affairs Select Committee, mainly, coming to the defence of the PCCs. They said that although it was easy for a Chief Constable to be removed, there are strict protections in place to prevent any unjust firings. This doesn’t however make up for occasions such as in Gwent where Chief Constable Carmel Napier retired while under pressure from commissioner Ian Johnston, or in Avon and Somerset where Chief Constable Colin Port decided not to reapply for his job. (The full story can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23387324 )
So while many PCCs have been very effective at fulfilling their job description, others have had criticisms raised or appear to be taking advantage of their position, representing a very mixed bag. This is somewhat like the political reception too. The Coalition is still very much in favour of the PCCs. Despite the poor turnout in the elections and the problems that have occurred, Theresa May in particular described them as a success saying that “crime is falling” as a result.
Labour, on the other hand, have been big critics of the Commissioners. In their eyes this was simply a way of politicising the police and many, including former ministers Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke, have called for the PCCs to be scrapped entirely. Furthermore, a report that suggested the scrapping of the job was backed by Ed Miliband who described it as a “real plan for the next Labour government.”
The conclusion here is somewhat predictable. As a whole the concept of PCCs seems to be unpopular, which isn’t surprising when the public see examples of fiddling expenses and the ‘sacking’ of Chief Constables. Yet it certainly isn’t all bad. Many PCCs have started to make a positive impact on their community in many ways, perhaps without people taking notice yet. The effectiveness of PCCs is very much on an individual basis and whether the PCC for a particular area has the drive to achieve what they want to. It’s extremely difficult to conclude whether the PCCs have been worth it or not, this is probably a very individual thing depending on what view you hold. All that can be said is if people started paying more attention to their PCC, as the mainstream media has neglected to, they will get a clearer idea whether they have been worth it or not.
If you’re looking for some more information this page provides a good overview of the PCCs (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19504639 ). Watch the video below and you can see what happened when Hitler became a PCC…