I spoke at Cambridge’s West / Central Area Committee on the 10th of January 2013 following a speech by Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright. While I didn’t manage to record myself while I was speaking I do have video of the Commissioner’s face while I was speaking which I have published along with this article.
What I Said:
- I noted that the commissioner had focused on neighbourhood watch and parish councils in his speech and let him know that in Cambridge we don’t have parish councils or many active neighbourhood watch groups.
- I urged the commissioner to observe democratic police priority setting by local councillors on the West/Central Area Committee. The commissioner didn’t reply to this suggestion verbally, however he can be judged on his actions: he walked out of the meeting as the policing agenda item got underway.
- I asked the commissioner if he supported councillors on the area committee setting local police priorities and holding the police to account for their performance against them. I asked if he would be letting councillors set local police priorities and if he would be endorsing any priorities set later in the meeting. The commissioner gave no answer to this key question, which I had asked previously him during the election campaign when his response was: “wait until after the election”.
- I suggested that local police priorities set by elected councillors provide “democracy in depth” and “localism” and noted that councillors were representatives of all residents in an area in contract to members of neighbourhood watch who are self-selecting.
What Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright Said After I had Spoken:
The commissioner responded without directly answering the key question of if he supported local, democratically set, police priorities ; and the chair provided no option for follow-up questions (something the commissioner may well have negotiated in advance?).
Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright said:
Yes I shall be setting priorities, I will continue to do that, but I will do it in consultation with as many people as I can
That could be interpreted as saying the commissioner is going to do all local priority setting himself; he’s certainly started by ordering a crackdown on “dangerous cycling” in Cambridge saying:
….dangerous cycling in the city was brought to my attention during my election campaign. As a result I asked the Chief Constable to tackle it.
- The commissioner didn’t directly respond to my suggestion that supporting local democratic priority setting might be a rational response to the low level of support for him from the city’s electorate. He replied instead commenting on the low turnout promising in three and a half year’s time he will have made sure people “know what it’s all about”. I hadn’t pointed particularly to the low turnout, but the fact he got only 2.4% of the electorate in Cambridge voting for him – that’s not low turnout, that’s a low vote for him in the city.
- Commissioner Bright said: “I appreciate Cambridge is different” and said “I have to point out Peterborough is very different too”; that was typical of the true but vacuous statements he made throughout his appearance at the committee. I suspect this comes from years of practice evading public questions.
- The commissioner said: “I don’t think you can have an umbrella operation around the county”. I agree with this; in some places we have strong, democratic parish councils which ought be given a role in police priority setting, in Cambridge we have students’ unions, which the law requires be run democratically, who represent a significant fraction of the population who could be given a role. I have published my own proposals and think that while there could, and should, be local variation the principle of elected councillors being at the core of the process of holding the police to account on at a local level is one I would like to see in operation everywhere.
It is often very difficult for members of the public seeking to contribute to area committees to understand what is permitted. I note I was interrupted by the chair after two minutes and asked to ask a question; despite the fact the council’s public speaking rules permit either questions or statements and suggest that members of the public ought be allowed three minutes to speak, and be afforded a two minute follow up. I understand chairs have the freedom to vary these parameters to meet demand, avoid repetition and keep things interesting, but there have been far too many occasions where members of the public have been reprimanded for not asking questions during public speaking slots.