Opinion: What kind of PCC do you want, and why does it matter?

This week the candidate list for Police and Crime Commissioners was published. Given the party’s ambivalence towards the idea we have ended up fielding candidates in only just over half the Police Authorities in England and Wales. The decision to allow local parties to make the decision about whether to field a candidate or support an independent took no account of the fact that in many areas independent candidates have been forced out because of the cost, or the fact that in other areas finding a liberally minded independent may be tough. Sadly only 18% of the declared candidates are women and in our party only 4 out of 23. Although, having anticipated an all male and pale cadre of new PCCs, we may be in for a surprise, with a higher percentage of women having been selected in potentially winnable seats.  

With the Electoral Reform Society anticipating a record low turnout, 15th November could throw up  unexpected and undesirable results. Here in Bedfordshire we have a candidate currently on bail, with a criminal conviction, who thinks that anyone who supports a multi cultural society should be sent to the gallows, that it’s OK to tell racist jokes and who is apparently happy to have members in the EDL who condone the actions of Breivik.   That candidate is Kevin Carroll, co-leader of the English Defence League and candidate for their political wing, the British Freedom Party.  With a low turnout it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could win. This raises the stakes and makes it even more important that we work hard to get our vote out.

If anything demonstrates the veracity of our fears about the role this does. Do we really want the leader of the EDL running our police service? But it also demonstrates just how important it is that the people of England and Wales have a liberal choice. That they have the opportunity to vote for candidates whose first priority is dispersing rather than hanging on to power. Candidates who are committed to what works rather than kneejerk reactions based on wanting to appear “tough”. So whether you support the role or not I urge you to get involved in this campaign – use it as an opportunity to demonstrate what is the truly liberal democrat response to cutting crime and the pain and misery it causes so many of our fellow citizens.

So having shared the misgivings of many in the party about having PCCs I find myself beginning to see the potential the role has for good as well as ill. An opportunity to act as a catalyst for real change, to be a strong voice for those with no voice. To hold not only the police to account but also all those who should play a role in both cutting crime and helping others deal with the consequences of crime.

Key to this in my view is having a sound youth policy. You’d expect me to say this having chaired our Youth Policy Working Group that produced Taking Responsibility – after all, young people are disproportionately both the perpetrators and victims of crime. This starts with recognising the work that needs to be done to rebuild trust between the police and young people, particularly those from BME communities. Giving young people a voice. Working with others in order to stop young people getting involved in the criminal justice system in the first place as NE Lincs has done so successfully using detached youth workers to make contact with the most at risk young people(I well remember when I was a member of our Crime Policy Working Group and two experts told us what we needed wasn’t 10,000 extra police officers it was 10,000 extra detached youth workers!).  As I have argued elsewhere, ensuring police and others are properly trained to work with young people and changing the way we deal with young people in the criminal justice system is also key. Restorative Justice is, unsurprisingly, particularly effective with young people and something I hope all our PCC Candidates will be promoting.

Good PCC’s, in my view, will spend as much time listening as acting, will recognise the need to have a holistic approach to prevention, will pay as much attention to victims and witnesses as to perpetrators. So even if you don’t have your own Liberal Democrat candidate – I urge you to challenge the candidates you do have about whether they believe in a fresh, liberal, evidence based approach to policing and crime or just more of the same, tired, ineffective kneejerk responses.

* Printed & promoted by Henry Vann on behalf of Linda Jack (Liberal Democrat) both at 35 Castle Quay, Bedford, MK40 3FG

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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5 Comments

  • Tracy Connell 25th Oct '12 - 3:39pm

    I don’t see the reason to have elected police commissioners in the first place. But if we have to have them I’d rather it was a candidate who has experience of working for or with the police and has some idea of the structure of the police force and how it works rather than a random Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem bod.

  • coldcomfort 25th Oct '12 - 4:10pm

    The risky, even disastrous outcomes, that Linda fears, were always totally predictable, which is why the whole notion was stupid to begin with. But again she is right. Where we have put up a candidate we also have to put up a credible campaign. In Lancashire we have a 38yr old barrister. At least we can work on the notion that he knows something about policing & try & shift the vote from tribal support. In my part of Lancashire (which is where the Conservative PCC comes from) you could find a chimpanzee, train it to walk upright, put it in a suit & pin on a blue rosette & bingo – duly elected. However, in this case there are signs that even some Conservatives might desert the tribe over PCCs.

  • Richard Dean 25th Oct '12 - 4:20pm

    That’s a difficult and very relevant question, and one that could be usefully discussed openly with the electorate so that they can be assisted and informed and energized. Here are some random thoughts …

    My understanding is that a PCC will work essentially as a channel connecting the general public and the police in a particular area – ensuring that local concerns are addressed in strategic priorities. I guess a PCC will also need to interact with other PCCs, with the Home Office (who I understand will offer some training in the role), with the PCPs, with the media, perhaps with lawyers, and perhaps even with the police officers federation. Will PCC’s also interact with suppliers or contractors? I would want someone who

    > is honest, law-abiding, energetic, tough, and fair
    > is able to communicate well
    > is able to identify and weigh the wishes and needs of everyone in the area of responsibility
    > understands how organizations work, particularly how they respond to budgets and to objectives
    > with general financial and management skills
    > is able to set up and work through an office – since the PCC is likely to need a lot of supporting staff
    > is able to talk rsponsibly and informatively with the media
    > is able assess job requirements and competence (since the PCC appoints the Chief Constable)
    > is free from previous obligations, particularly potential suppliers or contractors

    and a whole lot more! Much of this is also what might be wanted in an MP, so the experience of being an MP could be a good point. On this basis John Prescott might be a good candidate, except maybe he’s not as energetic nowadays. I’d be a little wary of ex-police officers because of potential bias, though I expect Brian Paddick would be an excellent PCC.

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