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November 16, 2012 / politicsbitesize

Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

On Thursday 15th November 2012 voting for the election of regional Police and Crime Commissioners took place.  The turnout was low, as expected, with only 18.5% of people heading to their local polling stations.  It has been suggested that many of those eligible to cast their votes were uncertain as to what they were actually voting for.

This is the first time that the public have been asked to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) because it is the first time that such a position has existed.  In total, 41 new PCCs will have been elected in England and Wales and it is their job to liaise with local communities about policing and listen to the needs of the people.

According to the Home Office website the role of the PCCs is to ensure that, ‘the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police, building confidence in the system and restoring trust’.

However, there has been some scepticism surrounding the impartiality of the role.  In an interview with Susanna Rustin for The Guardian, former MP Vera Baird and Falklands veteran Simon Weston discussed the potential politicisation of the police force.  Vera Baird is standing for Labour in Northumbria and Simon Weston has recently withdrawn as an independent candidate in South Wales.

Simon expressed his concerns over the politics that could be potentially involved in the new role: ‘I felt I didn’t want to stand in the end when I looked at the politics … The post is supposed to be independent and free of party politics, but I felt it was going to be very difficult to distance yourself from all of that.’  Vera’s position was very clearly based in party politics, as she stated in the interview that: ‘As a Labour person … I’m very opposed to privatisation, I’m a big fan of neighbourhood policing and I have been engaged all my life with tackling violence against women. My approaches to those issues are Labour approaches, but I am myself as well.

Vera Baird’s opposition to the privatisation of the police force was mirrored by Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, in her recent article for The Guardian.  She stressed her concern that, ‘A strong push is under way both from Tory government ministers and from private companies to contract out large swaths of public policing.’  Her party’s political ambitions for the PCCs are highlighted by her suggestion that from 2013, harsh and far reaching cuts are to be implemented by the government, which will result in around 15,000 officers losing their jobs.  Ms Cooper believes that these cuts are too deep and too fast and claims that a Labour PCC would listen to those people in the community who would be concerned about a lack of police officers.

One of the most laudable features of the United Kingdom’s police force over the centuries has been its lack of direct political affiliation.  But even in the campaigning literature for each PCC candidate a distinct political agenda is made clear.  Take for example, the Conservative and Labour candidates based in Nottinghamshire, whose key pledges are to fight the policies of the other!

The new PCC will be responsible for vital policing decisions and so he or she should be free from party political bias.  It is a job for those who are genuinely interested in making a difference to their local communities by providing a space within which to open up dialogue with the police.  In the interest of fairness and transparency, any new PCC should not use the role as simply a way of implementing Whitehall’s policies.

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