Published:

Boyd EdEdward M J Boyd is a Research Fellow at Policy Exchange. Follow Edward on Twitter.

Police and Crime Commissioners are a good idea.

If people
don’t like the school their children go to or the GP they visit when they’re sick,
then they can increasingly choose to go elsewhere.

That’s
not the case with policing.

If someone
is fed up with a lack of police action to tackle the antisocial behaviour
outside their house day after day, then they can’t request a different police
service. They can’t even lobby their Police Authority to do something about it because
hardly anybody knows that these Authorities exist.

The
introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to replace Police
Authorities on the 15th November will change all this. For the first
time the public will have directly elected individuals holding the police accountable,
who will actively seek the views of the public and incorporate them into police
force priorities.

Predictably, those who have always opposed PCCs want to use the
expected low turnout to bash the idea, and to try to reverse the policy.


Turnout may well be low.  Belt
tightening in the public sector meant that the Coalition Government decided not
to fund a free mail shot for candidates, which the Electoral
Commission
suggests would have boosted voter turnout by around 5.5%. In my
book, this would have been worth the £30 million price tag. Turnout is also likely to be reduced further because the Lib
Dems didn’t want the elections on the same day as other elections, hence holding
them in the middle of November when miserable weather is likely to keep many
voters away.

But let’s put things into perspective.

Current Police Authorities are elected by 0%
of the public. Compared to these, PCCs represent a big increase in
accountability and legitimacy. Furthermore, because of the size of police force areas, with each one covering
an average 1.1 million people, even if turnout is depressingly low, each PCC
will still have a sizeable number of votes behind them.

For example, a turnout
of 15% would mean an average of 129,000 votes in each police force area. This
compares to just 46,000 in the average parliamentary constituency at the 2010
General Elections. The highest personal
mandate in 2010 was gained by Labour MP Stephen Timms (East Ham) with 35,471
votes.  With a turnout of just 15%, the
average PCCs will need to win just 27% of the vote in order to win more votes
than him.

Police and Crime Commissioners are here to stay. Some opponents of elected police accountability seem to
think that any hint of public involvement will lead instantly to mob justice
and lynch mobs.  In reality the role of PCCs will be to answer important
but prosaic questions, like, do we need to increase the local police precept or
can we deliver police services more efficiently? What role should the private
and third sectors play in policing? And how do we get better at preventing
crime?

The more paranoid fears of some opponents will simply not materialise,
and they too will come to recognise that the introduction of Police and Crime
Commissioners was a good idea. Their arrival will give the public a voice in
the setting of police priorities; ensure the police are held strongly to
account; and will mean, for the first time, a locally elected individual will take
full responsibility in the fight against crime. 

Comments are closed.