Elected Police Commissioners in the UK
Soon, folks throughout the UK will elect their first police and crime commissioners (PCCs). It is intended that they will hold the police force to account and oversee how crime is tackled. Hailed as the biggest shake up of policing in half a century, on Thursday, November 15 elections will take place across England and Wales, excluding London, with 41 new PCCs being elected in total. [The following information comes from the “This is Gloucestershire” online news service.]
The question is whether or not this will politicize police in the U.K. Some commentators have suggested it will create a negative model similar to what we have in the U.S. This situation bears watching. It seems many police in the U.K. are against it. Time will tell…
PCCs Will Oversee Their Local Police Force and Hold It to Account
Police and crime commissioners will be tasked with ensuring your police force is effective, and with bringing a public voice to policing. They will be expected to listen to the public and then respond to their needs, and they will hold the chief constable to account for the delivery of the force. They will also appoint or, where necessary, dismiss the chief constable. They won’t be able to tell the police how to do their job, however. Chief constables will retain direction and control of the forces’ officers and staff – this operational independence of the police is protected by legislation. Nor will the operations of the police be politicized – who is arrested and how investigations work will not become political decisions, the Government insists.
How did this idea come about?
Having elected police and crime commissioners was a key part of the Conservatives’ 2010 manifesto and their commitment to the plan was included in the coalition agreement. In it they vowed to “make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual”. Consequently the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, which replaces police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners, became law on September 15, 2011. It was agreed the first set of elections would take place on November 15, 2012.
So what will PCCs do exactly?
- Set the force budget and precept – they will distribute policing grants from central government and set the precept raised through council tax
- Set and update a police and crime plan – they will engage with the public and victims of crime to help them do so
- Make and influence decisions about issues such as CCTV, street lighting and graffiti, and the tackling of gangs and drug-dealing
- Set strategic policing priorities
- Listen to the priorities of local people by consulting them, and ensure those priorities are acted upon
- Appoint or dismiss the chief constable, and hold him or her to account
- Work with the council and other organizations to promote and facilitate joined up working on community safety and criminal justice.
What is the point of these new PCCs?
It is hoped PCCs will:
- ensure the policing needs of your community are met as effectively as possible
- ensure your police force is effective
- ensure your voice is heard
- cut crime
Will this role be politicized?
PCCs will be required to swear an oath of impartiality when they are elected to office. The oath will commit PCCs to serve the people, not a political party. They will be obliged to serve every member of the public impartially.
How will PCCs deal with issues like terrorism and civil emergencies?
PCCs will be responsible for the full range of policing work, including national responsibilities and local priorities. But the Home Secretary will issue a strategic policing requirement to ensure the police can protect the public from cross-boundary threats such as terrorism, civil emergencies, public disorder and organized crime.
How much will PCCs be paid?
The salary PCCs receive will differ depending on the police force they oversee. The range of salaries is aligned with pay received by chief constables, though it is not equal. It takes into account differences in force weighting and policing challenges.
So, for example, the PCC of Dyfed-Powys Police – a force which safeguards a population of around 488,000 – will be paid a salary of £65,000 ($103,350). But the PCC of West Midlands Police – the second-largest police force in the country serving a population of almost 2.8 million – will be paid £100,000 ($159,000).
Who will hold PCCs to account?
PCCs are answerable to the citizenry. If you are unsatisfied with policing and crime in your area it’s the PCC you should tell. They will set up channels for you to contact them, such as local meetings or via email or letter. Your PCC will answer to you on how successfully they have cut crime in your area. In addition, Police and Crime Panels are being introduced in each force area to scrutinize the actions and decisions of each PCC. These panels will make sure information is available for you too. Panels will support and challenge PCCs. They’ll be empowered to make reports or recommendations – including vetoing with a 2/3 majority – about the proposals by PCCs on the level of the precept (council tax charge for the police) and the appointment of a chief constable.
What if I have a complaint about my PCC?
Criminal complaints against PCCs and their deputies will be handled by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Non-criminal complaints will be handled by the police and crime panel.
Who can stand (for election) as a PCC?
A person may stand as a PCC if they are:
- 18 or over
- a British, Commonwealth or EU citizen
- registered to vote in the force area in which they wish to stand
They can’t stand if they have been convicted of an imprisonable offence. Nor can you stand if you have a certain job. For example, you can’t stand if you’re a serving civil servant, judge, police officer, or a member of the regular armed forces. Some elected officials (MEPs, MSPs, AMs and MPs) will be able to stand as PCCs, but will need to stand down from their existing post before being able to accept the post of PCC. To be formally nominated a candidate’s nomination will need to have been signed by 100 people registered to vote in the police force area where the candidate is standing. The candidate will also have given a deposit of £5,000 ($7,950) which will be returned if they receive more than 5 per cent of the votes cast in the election.
How has this plan been received?
The response has been mixed. Critics say the majority of people know next to nothing about the elections, and few care. They also question the legitimacy of the PCC given the predicted low turnout – possibly under 20 per cent. This summer judges said they had “grave concerns” about allowing locally elected commissioners to select what support services should be offered to crime victims. They warned some of the measures are “potentially disastrous”. Critics also fear PCCs could politicize policing. But supporters maintain PCCs will boost accountability, and enable the police to build stronger links with their communities. They say PCCs will be better able to tackle specific, local issues, and help restore confidence in the police. Supporters also stress the elections will take power from Whitehall and put it in the hands of local people.
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