Comment: Police elections are a real opportunity


08 November 2012

This Thursday for the first time ever we will have the chance to have a democratic say over who oversees our local police force.  Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will replace the old, councillor-led Police Authorities and provide a voice for local people. They will open up police forces, making them more accountable for the policies and strategies they follow. If you hadn’t heard of Police Authorities before, then you are not alone. This in itself is part of the reason why greater accountability and accessibility is needed at the top of the Police.

Police and Crime Commissioners will provide exactly that. They will be visible, high-profile and elected presences at the top of each police force outside London (where the Mayor of London already has responsibility for overseeing the Met). PCCs will focus on how best to ensure value for money, how to reflect the wishes of the local people they represent and how to hold the police to account when they need to be.

Chief Constables will continue to run their constabularies, but the newly elected Commissioners will provide renewed transparency and a real link to the local communities in which the Police carry out their work. Leicestershire and Rutland’s PCC will work with the Chief Constable (currently the excellent Simon Cole) to manage the region’s budget, policing policies and priorities.  In Leicestershire and Rutland we have three candidates vying for the new post: Sir Clive Loader (Cons), Sarah Russell (Lab) and Suleman Nagdi (Independent). Regardless of who has convinced you of their merit over the past months of campaigning, however, the crucial thing is that as many people as possible get out and actually vote. The turnout for the recent hustings in Rutland County Museum gave the lie to the idea that no-one is interested in this election. Yet there has been a degree of apathy across the country towards next Thursday’s poll that I am sure Rutland can counter. We should not take for granted the opportunity of putting someone at the head of the police force that we choose.

These elections and the new positions are of course still new and developing. They will ultimately be what the people who are elected make of them. A democratic mandate will in itself be an empowering spur towards this and I hope that once the new PCCs have had a chance to demonstrate the impact that they can make in their new roles  public awareness and confidence in the new style of management will increase.  

Police and Crime Commissioners are another concrete example of localism in action and I would encourage all those who want to feel more closely connected to a more accountable local police force to get down to the polls and have their say.