• Police commissioners are ‘on probation’, Commons committee concludes

    5th May 2014 | News | Claire
  • Police commissioners are “on probation” because of a failure to cut through to the public, a powerful committee of MPs has concluded.

    The Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report the case for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) has yet to be made, after low election turnouts and the failure of some PCCs to live up to the expectations of the public.

    PCCs were elected for the first time in November 2012 on very poor turnouts of less than 15%. They were intended to replace police authorities drawn from local councils.

    Tony Hogg, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commisioner, was elected under the Conservative banner with just 69,419 votes.

    He defeated Brian Greenslade, a Liberal Democrat who stood as an independent, who received 37,243 votes in total.

    Reforms suggested by the committee include putting the names of deputy PCCs on the election ballot, allowing teams to be elected as a single ticket in a bid to boost transparency and prevent claims of nepotism.

    Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “The concept of police and crime commissioners is still very much on probation.

    Some Commissioners have fallen well short of the public’s expectations and urgent reforms are needed to ensure that this concept does not put at risk public trust and engagement in the police, the very objectives for which PCCs were brought in.

    “Deputies should not be cronies that are given their job on the basis of nepotism. By electing them on the same ticket we ensure that the public will be able to have their say on someone who often acts with the powers of the Commissioner.

    “Though we welcome good working relationships between chief constables and PCCs, the arrangement should never be too cosy. The setting of targets by PCCs must not promote the manipulation of crime figures and all PCCs should review their auditing arrangements immediately.”

    Police and crime panels should be strengthened to improve their role in scrutinising the removal, resignation or retirement of a chief constable, the committee concluded.

    The panels should also be able to veto appointments of deputy PCCs.

    Mr Vaz said: “The hiring of deputies and the decision to remove chief constables are critical decisions for local communities and it is vital that the amount of the scrutiny applied to commissioners by police and crime panels increases.

    “Panels’ powers must be strengthened and extended to ensure that any decision to remove a chief constable is the right one for the public. Only this will provide full public confidence.”

    The committee also recommended newly elected PCCs should be given a month between polling day and taking office to ensure they can receive effective training in how to do the job properly.

    A Home Office spokesman said: “Police reforms are working and crime has fallen by 10% under this Government. The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners has been the most significant democratic reform of policing and they are working hard to ensure communities have a stronger voice in policing.

    “PCCs bring accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform. As the HASC report recognises, they are providing the drive to reform, innovate and deliver policing more efficiently. Public awareness of PCCs has increased greatly, in stark contrast to that of the anonymous police authorities they replaced.

    “There is nothing to stop PCCs announcing who their deputy will be in advance of future elections. It is a matter for PCCs and the public that elects them.”