Last month the Queen wandered down The Mall to the Houses of Parliament. Once there she showed the guard her pass, they let her in and she went in to the Bill signing room. She adjusted her glasses, took a Biro from her handbag and wrote her name at the bottom of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, thereby bringing it into law.
Amongst the provisions of the Act is the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners who will from next year begin to replace the existing Police Authorities in all forces outside London.
As things stand at the moment, there are three separate influences on the control of a police force. These are the Home Secretary, the Police Authority and the force’s head honcho, its Chief Constable.
The Home Secretary has overall responsibility for policing, law and order on a national scale. He or she works closely with other related ministers in Westminster such as the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice and the Justice Secretary.
The Chief Constable has overall control of a police force and is in charge of its strategy and operations. The Chief has the power to decide force policy and tailor his force’s organisation as he or she sees fit.
Thrown into the mix alongside the Home Secretary and the Chief are Police Authorities. Each force has its own and they are usually composed of around seventeen members, nine of whom are elected having been drawn from local authorities and the remaining eight are independent being drawn from the community. The Police Authority exists to scrutinise its police force, ensuring that value for money is being obtained and respect is being paid to the budget which it sets.
The Police Authority also plays an important role in setting local performance targets in the form of a Policing Plan. The targets are agreed, published, and then closely monitored with questions being raised if the force appears to be falling short.
With the introduction of the Act, Police Authorities will be replaced by single Police and Crime Commissioners who will be elected persons charged with all of the above responsibilities and also having the capability to dismiss a Chief Constable if circumstances dictate it necessary.
Anyone will be able to stand for the role so long as they are British, Commonwealth or EU citizens over the age of 18 and living in the force area. Terms will be four years long.
One of the arguments made for Commissioners is that they will help make police forces more accountable and in touch with the priorities and concerns of the public. By giving the public an opportunity to directly influence the priorities of their force, it is hoped that the force will come to better represent the people that they police.
Another argument is that Commissioners would be in a better position to properly scrutinise a police force that Police Authorities are. It has been said that Police Authorities lack the ability to stand up to Chief Constables or the Home Office when it comes to influencing change.
Detractors have questioned whether a single Commissioners really would be able to do a better job than a panel of seventeen members. Questions have been raised about the systems in place to hold Commissioners to account and also about how much the new system will cost.
Further to these concerns, there have also been doubts from some over the wisdom of potentially politicising policing. Would Commissioners make decisions based on the interest of their region or on their ambitions for re-election and would they be at risk from corruption?
Either way, the Commissioners will begin to take up their posts from next year and your local force will be providing information about how you can get involved in their election and so begin to participate directly in how your police force is supervised.
It’s going to be an interesting change and something that will require your input to work correctly. As such I’ll be posting updates on this blog as and when we know more about the elections, who’s likely to be standing and how you can get involved.