Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hail to the Chief

You know, I'm almost tempted to put my name forward to be a candidate in the first election of a commissioner of police for the West Midlands. Except that it just seems to be a pointless elected post at a time when additional costs make no sense.

In the US, of course, elections for district attorney or sheriff are quite commonplace, but that isn't what we're supposedly going to get over here, where the elected chief officer won't actually have operational control, so there's rightly no room for the force to be politicised. Or so they claim.

It would seem that this should prevent your elected official using the police to harry opponents, but what happens when it comes to broader strategic issues? If the commissioner tells the chief constable that the most important priority is tackling motor vehicle crime in Sutton Coldfield or burglary in Moseley - because as a politician, they will have an eye on their electorate - rather than a difficult project to deal with gang violence in Aston (or vice versa, for that matter), will the operational chief constable be able to do much about it? Similarly, much research shows that putting uniformed officers onto the beat is very ineffective when it comes to putting criminals away, but very popular with the voting public, so what happens when the elected and operational officers disagree?

I fail to see how you can actually separate off the operational from the strategic tasking elements. Both feed into each other.

The anonymous police authorities - actually committees of local councillors and lay members - will also go, to be replaced by committees of local councillors who will hold the police commissioner to account. I'm not sure I can see a huge change there, to be honest, other than the addition of an extra layer of elected bureaucracy and cost. I don't see how one person in charge of a force like West Midlands can hope to be more in touch with the needs of Wolverhampton or Coventry or Birmingham than a local councillor who also serves on the police authority. Then we have the question of the public appetite for another election campaign in 2012, probably running alongside metropolitan council elections, which typically attract low turnouts - under 30% is common.

These proposals seem designed to politicise the police in a most insidious way, to create a local head of blame, who will have to impose his mandate upon a resistant police service in order to retain his post. This risks the fatal corrosion of the principle of policing by consent that has been the basis of British policing since it's inception.

1 comment:

Gill said...

Couldn't agree more. "The Wire" should be compulsory viewing for anyone wanting to see why this is such a bad idea!