A huge job – but also a huge opportunity

October 31, 2012

Last week Policy Exchange held a one day conference in Birmingham for Police & Crime Commissioner candidates. The aim was to delve into some of the very real challenges that Commissioners will have to deal with from day one: the media, the public, concerns over outsourcing and what they need to do in the first weeks and months in office.

The conclusion was, I think, overwhelming. Commissioners will have their work cut out for them. Some will inherit forces with strong management and a keen sense for fighting crime, others won’t be so lucky.

Those without a determined private office will find their diaries jammed with meetings: interest groups, local authorities, partner agencies, businesses, staff associations, members of the public and perhaps even a thinktank or two.

They will be expected – if not required – to get to grips with managing the budget for a large organisation, while also mastering at least a basic knowledge of policing and the criminal justice system that lies beyond.

In spite of all these challenges almost 200 candidates are standing in the 41 police areas affected. Many are independents – some with policing experience, others just with an interest in the issues. See the list of north of England candidates here.

There is no doubt that a good commissioner, with a good team, and a good chief, will have the potential to make a real difference to the lives of the public: particularly those who find themselves disproportionately affected by crime, or the fear of crime. Often this is the poorest, youngest and oldest in our society.

It is reasonable to expect debates on police governance to rumble on, but Commissioners – whatever the turnout on 15 November – are here to stay.

The north, like the south, should welcome the arrival of Commissioners as being far more visible and accountable than the authorities they replace. Commissioners can also be expected to welcome, celebrate and support those policing activities the public hold most dear and want more of: notably, community policing.

It helps that foot patrol and preventative approaches have been shown to both cut crime and improve satisfaction, especially among those groups with a history of dissatisfaction or poor service. The challenge will be developing a sustainable approach to providing this.

The absence of a taxpayer-funded mailshot for candidates, the late arrival of the official Home Office website, the decision to hold the election on a cold dark night in November and a media hungry for tales of woe, might all contribute to the idea of a failing policy. As might the failure of some candidates to even claim their profile on our own PoliceElections.com website.

However the real test will be in three and a half years time, when the public get to vote again, on a brighter day in May, for a role they better understand – and, crucially, when they can see what has or hasn’t changed.

The brightest and best Commissioners will, like the rest, face challenges – but the opportunity to make a real difference, to real people, living real lives is unprecedented. Furthermore, is there any more crucial or noble pursuit than the maintenance of law, order and public safety?

This article originally appeared on The Guardian’s website

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