Keep up to date with Drugs & Crime

Police Commissioners should beware policy-based evidence

Share This Post

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

What will PCCs do?

There’s been plenty of discussion in the media recently about Police and Crime Commissioners who are to be elected on 15 November and will be “accountable for how crime is tackled in their police force areas.”

Very little of the coverage has been positive.

Most of it has focused on public apathy and the very real concern that most people neither know about them, nor care.

Even though the Home Office is planning a public  awareness campaign after the Olympics, the most optimistic speakers at last week’s @crestadvisory’s event were hoping for just a 20% turnout.

The most enjoyable thing about attending the Crest advent (where about half the delegates were PCC candidates) was the opportunity to have some proper discussion about the role of the PCC.

The role of commissioner

I’m particularly interested in the function of PCCs which is enshrined in their job title – commissioning.

The new Act gives PCCs the power to “commission policing services from the chief constable (or other providers)”.

So far the discussion about commissioning has centred  around police privatisation with a number of Labour candidates promising to stand on an anti- privatisation ticket, while Nick Herbert,  the policing Minister, says they can’t.

Although it’s unreasonable to ask PCCs to be actively involved in the actual commissioning processes, it does seem right that they actively lead and shape a discussion about how best to address local crime and anti-social behaviour problems.

Professor Martin Innes  gave a very helpful presentation on how rapid but robust research can help underpin effective responses to crime.

He described most police forces as being “information rich but knowledge poor”.

Even more tellingly, he painted a picture of how the hierarchical nature of the police force tends to award promotions to those who pilot new schemes and initiatives. The commitment and creativity are to be welcomed, but in practice many schemes are “doomed to succeed” and not properly evaluated to see if they truly achieve what they claim.

Policy-based evidence is much more common than evidence-based policy.

As soon as PCCs are elected (and in many cases well before), they will be surrounded by Chief Constables, Community Safety Leaders, large private sector providers and Special Interest Groups all keen to persuade them which courses of action to adopt.

In reality, PCCs will have very limited influence in their first year in office – their policing plan has to be signed off within a month of their election.

However, their influence in ensuing years could be substantial.

The three keys to good commissioning

In order to make good commissioning decisions, PCCs will need three key factors in place:

  1. They will need independent academic advice on what has worked internationally and at home in addressing key issues
  2. They will need a robust and trusting relationship with their Chief Constable based on mutual respect to allow an honest (sometimes private) assessment of strengths and weaknesses.
  3. They will need to communicate the reasons for their decisions, not just to the public who will decide to re-elect them but also to everyone who works on the local criminal justice front-line – police and probation officers, and all those involved in community safety work in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors.

Either that – or reach for the BatPhone.

If you’re interested in Police and Crime Commissioners, I am curating much of the online debate at my Scoopit! page:

Share This Post

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Related posts

Digital Engagement
Transforming the Criminal Justice System

The digital justice system is slowly becoming a reality. Police now transfer more than 90% of case files electronically to the CPS and there are digital Court pilots in Birmingham and Bromley. The next priority is to digitise evidence with police officers’ notebooks being overtaken by tablets and body worn video cameras which should not only streamline but also improve the quality of evidence.

Police Governance – replacing Police and Crime Commissioners

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.

When Police Commissioners rule the world…

I’ve never really understood why right-wing think tanks have been such strong advocates of Police and Crime Commissioners expanding their powers at such an early stage in their existence. Reform published a report before PCCs were even elected which advocated that they should be in control not only of local police and criminal justice agencies but the fire and rescue and ambulance services too. Yesterday, Policy Exchange published Power Down: A plan for a cheaper, more effective justice system which again placed PCCs at the centre of change.

Payment by Results
The lessons from justice reinvestment

Earlier this week, the MoJ published the findings from the first evaluation of the justice reinvestment project conducted by Kevin Wong and his colleagues from Sheffield Hallam University. The pilot operates a payment by results approach which means that if the pilot areas succeed in reducing demand on criminal justice services (by 5% for adults and 10% for young offenders), they receive additional funds generated by the savings to invest in further reducing re-offending initiatives.

2 Responses

  1. Very thoughtful article and résumé of the meeting. The only bone of contention I still have about ‘independent academic advice’ is that universities are not quite as independent as they perhaps like to think, and the research evidence is rather patchy and often wrong – I’ve noticed a significant level of politicization of criminology since the 1980s I guess as departments chase government funding. Particularly in relation to drugs where I would say the degree of decriminalisation bias is scandalous. Look forward to debating this further at some point!
    PS I think I patched things up with Martin – mates for life!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

keep informed

One email every day at noon