On the morning of the 8th of October 2012 I went on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s breakfast show hosted by Paul Stainton to talk about the election of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
The subject was being discussed as the returning officer was expected to kick off the process by posting the formal notice of the election later in the day.
I drew attention to the fact that this means nominations are now open and we all have until the 19th of October to try and ensure there is someone on the ballot paper we positively want to vote for. This is a part of the election process I don’t think there’s usually enough promotion of. It’s important, as usually the only people who know an election is called are party political staff. The process should in my view be much more open and public to encourage and enable those from beyond the tiny fraction of the population who are members of political parties to stand. I would like to see returning officers hosting websites and noticeboards where people can go and sign their names to people’s nominations, and more people should make their views known and say what they would do with the role if they were elected to it.
On The Paul Stainton Bigger Breakfast Show we discussed the predicted a low turnout for the elections. I said we’ve not had elections like these before so we really don’t know what will happen. Many people really are interested in and care about policing so political commentators might well be surprised. Hopefully the campaign will make more people aware of the kinds of things a commissioner could do and provoke public debate on issues such as:
- Is a PCSO good value for money compared with a PC, and which should we have out policing our streets? A PCSO can cost about the same as a PC even though despite being dressed in a fluorescent jacket a PCSO does not have the powers of a police constable and cannot act in relation to most crimes, including for example speeding. My view is that employing PCs rather than PCSOs is a more efficient use of resources.
- Should our police be routinely armed with TASER weapons? I do not want to see this happen as I fear it would damage the relationship between the police and the public, and result in a shift away from “policing by consent” towards policing by force and actually make the country harder to police. (more)
- To what extent is it acceptable to outsource elements of policing? Already in Cambridgeshire forensics work and custody medical services are outsourced to private providers and an options for further privatisation are being considered. My view is it often makes sense to bring in a service from outside, particularly if it is for example one that is rarely required – just as domestically I own a car, but not a van, and hire a van if I need one. What doesn’t make sense though is wholesale outsourcing of core elements of the service; if they can be provided cheaper by others there’s a need for the public sector to understand why and reform themselves.
- Should police stations in villages be sold off? Should Cambridge’s police station remain at Parkside or move out of town? My view is that the police answering their phone in a timely manner and responding when called is more important than them being available to visit in a police station. I also think that there are advantages to keeping particularly the police custody suite in the city centre in Cambridge, so those released are not in the middle of nowhere, and as it is close to the courts. The front desk is currently, due to the paper based nature of policing, required to be easily accessible.
Risks of Low Turnout
Paul Stainton put it to me that:
The folks just ain’t getting giddy Richard
We could in Cambridgeshire see the Monster Raving Loony Lord Toby Jug elected with his policies of:
- “Anyone caught breaking the law will be made to mend it.” – which perhaps shows he is a supporter of restorative justice
- “Everyone appearing in court should wear wigs and silly clothes” – which shows Lord Jug has grasped the potential for the commissioner to influence the wider criminal justice system not just have a role in relation to the police
I said that one effect of a very low turnout could be getting Lord Toby Jug as police commissioner. Presenter Paul Stainton suggested there was a problem in that he could get a bunch of fellows together an all vote for the Monster Raving Loony and get him in. When asked if this was a problem I said: “That’s democracy”.
While in Cambridgeshire we don’t yet have any declared BNP candidates, we don have an English Democrat whose views on immigration are in my view rather extreme.
Concentrating Power in One Person
I expressed my concerns about concentrating power and responsibility in just one individual (what if they become ill or get run over by a bus?) and suggested that an incoming commissioner could mitigate the problems by:
- Delegating some of the role to executive councillors or cabinet members with responsibility for policing in Cambridge, Peterborough and the districts
- Using the Police and Crime Panel to support them in monitoring the police’s performance
I said any commissioner will inevitably have more knowledge of one part of the force area than others and working with councillors would be one way of addressing this.
Surprised We’re Here
Despite the Tory manifesto and the coalition agreement many people have been sceptical of if we’d ever reach this point of the elections for Police and Crime Commissioner’s being called. Many people, even councillors, have been saying “if we get police commissioners” not “when” up to very recently.
I think there needed to be change. Police authorities were as the government has said, invisible and ineffective; ours was in Cambridgeshire. They had no public profile, and didn’t robustly hold the police to account in public, most of what they did appeared to have been agreed between the police and the police authority behind closed doors.
If it is a Disaster
I said if Police and Crime Commissioners do turn out to be a disaster the idea will have to go back to MPs and they’ll have to come up with something else.
Register to Vote
The returning officer’s webpage, before he rejigged it to host the notice of election, said that people have until 31 October to register to vote.