What is the point of Police and Crime Commissioners?

November 16, 2012

There are many advantages to the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners that the public has missed. It would be difficult to blame them however, as this good policy has not been well communicated.

The Home Office only launched their website showcasing the candidates – www.choosemypcc.org.uk – three weeks before the elections. Policy Exchange launched a similar website – www.policeelections.com – back in August which has since received over 20 million hits.

The public has wanted to know more about the elections for while.

Furthermore, the Government decided not to fund a free mail shot for candidates, which has meant that many voters have gone to the polls (or not) without receiving any information about who to vote for. It is not surprising that turnout is likely to be low.

As a result, one of the most important and exciting aspects of the reform is not well understood. Namely, that we are not just electing somebody to hold the police to account, but are also giving – for the first time – a single person responsibility for the fight against crime.

This change is as significant as the change in police accountability. The police will always play the central role in the fight against crime and are rightly held to account by the public for the level of crime and disorder in their communities.

Yet for success in fighting crime it is incumbent upon every individual, community and organisation – both state and private – to play their part.

Take the example of care homes.

Policy Exchange conducted a questionnaire of Chief Constables (half of whom responded) for an upcoming paper, Policing 2020.

In it we asked Chiefs what they thought of the support they received from care homes. Not a single Chief was content with the support they received from them.

One police force had 3,500 missing people in 2009-10, costing them £3.3 million. Over three quarters of this demand came from care homes, with 2.5% of individuals creating 26% of the demand and single care homes being responsible for over 100 missing people reports a year.

Despite the obvious benefits of proactive intervention with the few individuals and care homes that created most of the demand, there was instead an over reliance on the police.

Care homes were calling the police if a child was just 10 minutes late for a meeting and generally negating their responsibilities in loco parentis.

Police and Crime Commissioners should be their police force’s greatest advocate and change this, by using their powerful media and political clout to encourage police partners, wherenecessary, to raise their game.

This isn’t the only area in which Commissioners will need to garner greater support from their partners.

They will also need to reinvigorate the public to play their part in the fight against crime. A Freedom of Information request by Policy Exchange showed that citizen’s arrests in London have halved over the past three years, and reduced 87% in a decade.

In our forthcoming paper, Policing 2020, we suggest that Commissioners invigorate the public by setting up Citizen Police Academies that would train the public on topics such as how to perform successful citizen’s arrests and how to diffuse potentially dangerous situations.

When the dust has settled on these elections, Commissioners will need to pick up and carry not just their role holding the police to account, but also their overall responsibility for crime.

As they do so, it will enact what is a far better structure for the fight against crime and disorder and significantly improve the service to the public.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph’s website

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