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Edward Boyd: Police and Crime Commissioners are here to stay

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. 


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