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What Police and Crime Commissioners are not

SamchapSam Chapman is a Lancashire County Councillor with twenty years' experience in policing and crime reduction. You can follow his campaign here.

In six month's time we will be in the last lap of more elections, those for local Police and Crime Commissioners. All across England and Wales, apart from London where they already have Boris, 41 individuals will need to be ready to assume an office that few people understand, possibly including a number of the candidates.

Today I'm letting everyone know that I'm being considered for the Conservative nomination in Lancashire, but for the past few months I've been following this election closely in my role as Editor at, where I indulge my politics addiction, find out what's going on, and seek to learn from other candidates. It seems to me that, come November, there are a few key things to remember that would prevent a new Commissioner from making some fundamental mistakes:-

1. You are not an elected chief constable.

You're not there to manage the police, or to make decisions about individual cases or operations. You pay plenty of people to do that for you, and you tell them what the public need to have done and hold them to account for doing it. This was not appreciated by Lord Prescott who gave an example of political interference in the Forest Gate anti-terror raid and by at least one Lib-Dem, who sought candidates who would tell their Chief Constables not to use certain legal powers.

2. You are not at an awards ceremony, holding a golden envelope.

You are not there to read out an announcement, written by somebody else, listing this year's five different crime categories most in need of tackling. You should provide strategic direction, which may include crime priorities, but also priorities about how services need to change, and check continually to ensure they are being addressed.

You will need to understand why crime figures are the way they are, and what influences them, to see past their imperfections and toward the reality they sometimes conceal. If, like Lancashire Labour candidate Clive Grunshaw, you say a certain number of reported domestic violence offences is unacceptable, you risk measuring your success on reducing the reported numbers of one of the most under-reported crimes, and thereby missing the real problem.

3. You represent the public, not the police

As a former cop, I know only too well the risks they take each day, and the stresses they put themselves through to keep the peace in this country. I'm also keenly aware of their opposition to budget cuts and suggested police reforms, some of which is justified. The Commissioner however, is not a police officer. There is no uniform or warrant card with this job, and no role as some sort of shop-steward for an unofficial police union. Informal discussions as to whether the Police Federation could back certain candidates are unhelpful and unwise.

It would be better for everyone to have a Commissioner who can give voice to the difficulties and injustice that officers see the public suffer on a daily basis, rather than a candidate for whom being 'pro-police' simply means jumping on the anti-reform bandwagon.

4. You are not a police authority with only one member

The Commissioner replaces the Police Authority but, to the consternation of the 17 or so part-time members thereby supplanted, the Commissioner has to do much more. The 'and Crime' part of the job is not merely awkward drafting. It involves real decisions on Community Safety funding, on preventing crime and not just catching criminals, and a legal responsibility to do what they can to provide an efficient and effective local criminal justice system, and there is every chance the Government will add more to a position backed by a mandate from an electorate of a million or so people.

For twenty years at least, it has been appreciated that crime is about much more than policing, and if candidates focus excessively on policing they will be showing they just don't get it.

5. You are the servants of electorates, not inspectorates.

Policing and crime can be dominated with targets, indicators and those with long careers in policing who share many of the assumptions of the services they now inspect. The Commissioner has one overwhelming reality to keep them in check. Their re-election will not be determined by an inspector's checklist or key lines of enquiry.

Whether they keep the job will depend on whether the voting public are both safer with that Commissioner than any competitor and aware that they are safer, in other words on whether they can minimise the real impact of crime. That perhaps is the most welcome development.


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