Discussing The Police And Crime Commissioner Election on BBC Cambridgeshire

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.

See Also

6 responses to “Discussing The Police And Crime Commissioner Election on BBC Cambridgeshire”

  1. PCSOs v PCs

    Have you looked at the cost per hour that they are actually on the street? PCs can be out being visible for just 50% of their working hours, PCSOs vastly more so – and visible policing is what makes the difference.

  2. This is the only argument for PCSOs as far as I’m aware – that they’re easier to keep on the street because they’re not capable of doing other things.

    This is in my view crazy, as we could keep constables on the street though good management – but in doing so have people on the street who can actually deal with things like speeding and other crimes they come across which PCSOs cannot.

    I would like to make remaining a police constable, and not seeking promotion into an attractive career option.

    I think the thing that visible policing does mainly is provide reassurance (as well as deter); patrolling is important but it’s an expensive way to give reassurance that the police are present and will come if called. I’d rather get the police to answer their phones rapidly, and communicate better – eg. publishing what they’re doing in the style of a USA police “blotter” and linking the police published information with the courts and probation services so that the impact of police action on those committing crime can be seen.

    I agree that PCSOs are visible, but they’re not in my view really “policing”. They’re dressed up to look like police officers, but they’re not, they’re just a step away from cardboard cut-outs – they’re visible too and reportedly effective (I’ve seen one in a Supermarket in Royston).

    An excessive focus on visible policing, if that’s what the public demand, over investigative work, and over putting effort into making cases to put to the courts, is in my view one of the risks involved in electing the wrong person as Police and Crime Commissioner.

  3. PCSOs can easily do something about speeding. The Chief Constable can, should he/she so wish, delegate a range of powers to PCSOs.

    You miss the point about patrolling – it provides for vital communications. If PCs are ever rushing around in cars, they’re never talking to people on the streets and finding out what is going on.

    Out in the villages the PCSOs are doing a superb job of knowing the people on the ground and having a real influence.

    Agreed that the crime resolution/prosecution rate needs to rise, but are simple numbers of PCs going to impact that?

  4. I don’t agree that visible policing is what makes the difference. Indeed, there is little or no evidence to support that notion. There is evidence that people believe it makes a difference, which is an entirely different thing. I agree wholeheartedly with Richard on PCSOs. They are generally a waste of resources, and investment in proper police officers instead is essential. I would like to see the evidence for PCSOs making such a difference in the villages. What villages? How is their effectiveness measured. Making residents feel better is important, but so is enforcing the law, which they simply don’t do.

    My pesonal experience with PCSOs is a very negative one, and whilst there may be some who are effective, I would much rather see properly trained Police Officers preventing and solving crime.

    It isn’t just about increasing numbers but more imaginative use of what we have, and that includes co=operation and integration with other County Constabulaies.

    What I am clear about is none of the declared candidates has the ability and/or experience to make a blind bit of difference and that the vast amounts of money being spent on the elections, the Commissioners salaries, and that of their support staff would be better spent elsewhere.

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