Sunday, 30 July 2017

PCC – who needs them?

In a piece in the Times a few days ago Jawad Iqbal, a former BBC executive wrote' Police and crime commissioners, your time is up'. It struck me that it's taken the mainstream media a long time to realise that PCC's really never had time, it was an ill-conceived, dumb beyond belief, idea whose time had never come.

Of course we know what was behind the concept it was an idea that originated in the United States where they elect police chiefs, local dog catchers, and even dangerous and mediocre TV celebrities as President. The whole notion was designed to centralise political power over a public service into the hands of one person, which of course means that he or she is easily manipulated and will do what central government wants him to. PCC's are a shameless political appointment designed for greater central control and of course to allegedly save money.

The whole experience has been a disaster during the first round of elections the average turnout was 15%, during the second batch of elections the percentage went up to an average of 26%, because of course it was held on the same day as the county council elections.

We in Northamptonshire had probably the most inept and useless PCC in the short history of PCC's. His name was Adam Simmons, and his experience such as it was, he had been the political assistant a.k.a. gopher for the leader of the council, to the Tory group on the county council. Added to which it would appear now that he actually lived in Leicestershire, so much for being the local police and crime Commissioner.

Nationally PCC's control a policing budget of £12.5 billion and they have the final say in appointing a chief constable. They can also appoint their own staff and in Northampton shire's case that meant for instance one of the deputy PCC's just happened to be the Tory election agent for Simmonds election. You may have noticed by the way that Neil the PCC's deputy had any actual experience of policing, or indeed any experience of running a large complex organisation, but no matter they were loyal party placemen and women. Simmonds made a number of appointments to his staff which resulted for instance in him having the largest public relations department of any PCC in the country and indeed larger than any previous police authority.

He also had grandiose plans, to recruit hundreds, maybe even thousands of special constables, to create a policing college at Northampton University, to target crime and to bring down the crime statistics, to create a faith commission under his auspices and to pretend that he was the reincarnation of President John F. Kennedy and I understand he even installed a rocking chair in his office as well as a photograph of the late president and he called his office the West Wing.

And of course he decided to sell off the police headquarters, build a new one outside Northampton and indeed many miles away from the M1 motorway. Of course he wasn't simply moving the headquarters which by the way include a training suite, a training ground for practising riot control, a firing range and dog kenneling and motor vehicle repair shops. All of those as well as communication centre were to be spread all over the county and staff moved accordingly. Of course he wasn't going simply to close the headquarters he was going to convert the building into a free school based on religious principles (he being a passionate Evangelist) in an area where there is actually no need for extra school places. The fact that he got the county council(remember who you work for) to build a roundabout outside the putative school at a cost understood to be around a quarter of million pounds.

I suppose the creation of a super high powered mock presidential crime Commissioner might have been worth having had he not managed at the same time to reduce the number of full-time police officers, to demoralise those who still worked for Northamptonshire and all this while crime figures went up. The simple reality is that there are fewer police officers on the beat, and those that are are working larger areas with fewer officers.

Northampton-shire's experience is not unique, in Iqbal's piece he points out that crime figures in England and Wales show the biggest annual rise in a decade, with rising levels of the most serious and violent offences:
"All the more reason for precious funds to go into front-line policing – not into a discredited vanity exercise that flatters the egos of compromised busybodies and failed MPs".

Of course there has always been an argument to democratise policing in this country, in a county like Northamptonshire it is possible to organise a directly elected police authority with each district having one or two elected members who by the way could be elected on the same day as  county council elections and that way the entire county could have representation without maintaining the farce of a police commissioner that at best was a lousy experiment. We now understand that the PCC is going to take over the fire service – such a proposal is the way of madness. I hope that the next Labour government will move to a directly elected police authority and this tragic wasteful experiment will be ended for ever.

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