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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Police Governance – replacing Police and Crime Commissioners

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There is a strong emphasis throughout the report on community engagement and neighbourhood policing and there is a specific recommendation to ensure that accountability goes down to the neighbourhood level by establishing "participatory budgeting units" to ensure greater local community involvement in allocating resources.
This is the third in a series of posts on the seminal Policing for a Better Britain report.

“The PCC model is systemically flawed”

Much of the media coverage of the Stevens Report (as Policing for a Better Britain is commonly known) focused on its recommendation that Police and Crime Commissioners should be discontinued, asserting that having local police services being accountable to a “single individual” was inappropriate.

This decision appears to be based on the concerns that PCCs were more likely to do the popular, rather than the right, thing; that they would pander to popular policies at the expense of silent crimes such as domestic violence and would prioritise front-line policing at the expense of less visible work.

Four Dilemmas

The report sets out four key challenges to finding an appropriate form of local accountability for the police:

  1. How to reconcile public input into local priority-setting with the operational responsibility of Chief Constables and protection for individuals – particularly minorities.
  2. How to handle tension between responding to public concerns whilst implementing an evidence-based approach.
  3. How to focus on local need without neglecting cross border crimes and terrorism.
  4. How to ensure that core values and ideals are reflected in the way police go about their business.

Localism

A local solution is the recommended option with key powers devolved to the lowest tier of local government. Again, the Stevens Report makes four key recommendations:

  • Internal police boundaries should be coterminous with the “lowest relevant tier of local government”.
  • A legal power to give local government a say in appointing local police commanders.
  • Enabling lower tier councils to retain some of the police precept from the council tax so they can commission local policing.
  • Empowering the same councils to set priorities for neighbourhood policing.

In addition to this very local approach, there will be new Policing Boards at force level (replacing PCCs and their precursors Police Authorities) which will comprise the leaders of all the local authorities. This new Policing Board will be given a set of powers similar to PCCs:

  • To set the overall budget.
  • Appoint and dismiss the Chief Constable.
  • Formulate and agree local policing plan in partnership with the Chief Constable.

There is a strong emphasis throughout the report on community engagement and neighbourhood policing and there is a specific recommendation to ensure that accountability goes down to the neighbourhood level by establishing “participatory budgeting units” to ensure greater local community involvement in allocating resources.

Who should hold the police to account?

We are at an interesting political juncture in terms of deciding how the police should be held to account with clearly opposite views on the newly created Police and Crime Commissioners.

The government has made it clear that they see a strong future for PCCs with the role expanding to the other emergency services and beyond. The opposition wants to see PCCs disbanded.

What do you think of the Stevens Report recommendations – would Policing Boards represent proper local accountability or just a web of complex bureaucracy?

Please share your views in the comment section below:

 

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2 Responses

  1. I have opposed PCC from the start as it represents the worst of both worlds. It (party)politicises policing and it’s not democratic as it places the power in the hands of one person (who may or may not be acting under party instructions) so is not truly democratic. The Stevens report offers an improvement but I would still be concerned by issue of party control of local policing.

    One other issue is that more & more there is a national dimension to policing. Although inevitable this concerns me.

    It seems to me inevitable that control of local policing will change after the next election. Demonstrating the ability of politicians to waste public money to promote party (& through it their own) interests while cutting policing & CJ budgets!

  2. Thanks for your comment Matt. I’m still agnostic about PCCs, but have to agree with you in terms of not liking the party political aspect. The trouble is that PCCs are so different from the rest of our system, unlike the US where Sheriffs, District Attorneys etc. are also elected.

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