In exactly three months, something rare and wonderful will happen — a national election on a single issue that the public care deeply about. On November 15 they will get to choose their new Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC).
The Government is not asking if you want a commissioner — that approach went belly up in May when voters roundly rejected city mayors. Instead, everyone in England and Wales outside London will get one: voters will be rid of appointed police authorities, the invisible and costly committees that elected commissioners will replace.
And rightly so. We need the police to be more responsive and accountable to the people they serve. If your town centre is invaded by drunken yobs every weekend, if drug dealing and vandalism go unchecked on your estate or you never see an officer on patrol despite a spate of burglaries, the commissioner’s job will be to do something about it.
We are not electing chief constables, and commissioners won’t have uniforms. But they will have to answer for police performance, so this is not a job for any old local politician. Think of commissioners as public-safety mayors: big personalities with real power to set budgets, decide policy and hold agencies to account.
But a YouGov poll found that a third of the public don’t know what they think about PCCs — hardly surprising given that opponents of the reform are busy stirring up apathy and predicting a low turnout in the poll. The policy won’t sell itself and we have yet to hear enough about its benefits from ministers. If they don’t speak out, it will be stillborn. This is the Prime Minister’s policy and he and the Home Secretary should be all over TV selling it.
We will do our bit. Today Policy Exchange is launching a website that shows where candidates stand on drugs policy or CCTV or the role of private companies in policing. It will show which candidates back the status quo — summed up by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary who said the police had “retreated from the streets” — and which have a plan to improve policing, not just save money.
By the next elections in 2016 the commissioners will have brought more variation in policing. There will be more innovation and experimentation about how to meet residents’ demands and keep people safe.
Those who think these elections are just about better police management miss the point. This is a chance for voters to take control of policing. If crime and disorder gets worse, the commissioners and their highly-paid chief constables will be out of a job.
This article originally appeared in The Times’s Thunder column (£)
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