Brouillard et matin….

I’m devastated.  Devastated for myself and my friends, for my colleagues and my clients and particularly for all the young people I know.  The referendum result may indeed be ‘democratic’ but it is also politics at its worst: divisive, isolationist, populist, onanistic.

David Cameron led us just over the brink of the most unnecessary precipice in order to save his premiership and to try to hold his party together. That plan backfired spectacularly, he has now resigned and we are going to spend the next few years working out how to navigate our way down off the precipice to as-yet-unfathomed ground, negotiating terms less favourable than those we already enjoy under the leadership of people whose economic judgement is hugely flawed, whose political judgement is dominated by self-interest and who don’t even want to understand the meaning or import of ‘cooperation’.  As Dafydd Foster Evans (@DFosterEvans) so neatly put it ‘Leave will not be a blank page on which to project our secret fantasies: it will be a concrete text written by Johnson, Gove et al and it will be co-authored by an EU of 27 nations whose over-riding priority will be to ensure a diminished Britain‘.  Pour découraget aux autres, as it were.

Referendums may be popular but they are no way to make either good policy or good politics.  This morning, the financial markets are in shock, the pound has crashed to a 30-year low, leading Leavers are reneging on their empty promises and so-called ‘Project Fear’ is already being shown to be ‘Project Justifiable Warning’.

I am struggling to see any silver lining to this cloud which has engulfed us and fear the next step will be the break-up of the UK. Jean-Jacques Goldman sang of ‘brouillard et matin‘: this is certainly the foggiest morning I remember.

Midnight feasts

Muhammad Ali’s death reminded me of nothing so much as my dad, who loved to watch boxing and especially Ali. In pre-video days, my dad would get up in the middle of the night to watch big matches on TV. My mum would make him a cuppa and a white-bread ham and mustard sandwich (did she get up specially to make the snacks or did she like boxing too? Who knows?), though on at least one occasion the bout was finished well before the sandwich…

Devolution and Police and Crime Commissioners: a cautionary tale

The election of Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012 was the Government’s first real attempt at devolution of powers and, as with every other aspect of the Localism agenda, it was largely designed to keep Government at arm’s length from any blame that might result from cuts to policing and community safety budgets.  The inadequacies of that election serve as a cautionary tale as we introduce more local ‘democracy’ in the shape of elected mayors.

When, in 2011, the timetable for the introduction of PCCs was announced, the Home Secretary said she was expecting ‘big hitters’: well-known public figures who might take on the role of fronting up public safety provision and initiatives across the country.  There was even talk of Richard Branson.  However, these ambitions fell away as potential applicants realised the challenges of the role.

Meanwhile, retired police officers across the country protested about what they saw as a political takeover and several former police officers stood for election in a vain attempt to ‘Keep Politics Out of Policing’.

The result was that the 2012 elections returned a hodgepodge of victors: local business people, retired armed forces officers, local and national politicians, whose previous careers ranged from barrister to electrician, a TV presenter and eight former police officers, all male, many of whom had stood as so-called ‘independents’, although one of these was, at the time, a member of the Liberal Democrats. Former police officers became, in effect, the third largest ‘party’ of PCCs and, of these, many had served in the very forces they were now charged with overseeing.

The election of former police officers poses an immediate question about the effectiveness of the rushed legislation.  One of the roles of the PCC is to ‘hold to account’ the Chief Constable of a police force, with the ultimate sanction of dismissal.  The reality of a relatively junior former police officer holding in his (or her) palm his own former Chief Constable’s career and being responsible for investigating complaints against the same police who were recently his colleagues hardly fits the description of ‘independent scrutiny’.

However, this is far from being the only questionable aspect of governance.  The PCC replaces not the Chief Constable but the Police Authority, the body which used to hold the Chief to account, although PCCs have a much wider remit.

The legislation added a further layer of governance, introducing Police and Crime Panels to scrutinise the PCC.  These, sadly, have largely proven to be toothless, with a 2014 National Audit Office report saying that they “lack powers”.  It can be argued that this powerlessness was intentional.

As with PAs, PCCs are comprised largely of local councillors, in a political ratio which reflects that of the police force area. However, instead of jointly holding the Chief Constable to account, the panel is now holding to account an elected politician who will, in many cases, be of the same political hue as the majority of the panel members.  The ‘holding to account’ thus becomes less ‘opposition scrutiny’ and more a rubber-stamping exercise. One panel member in Hertfordshire resigned saying “It’s a waste of time, money and space.They need to throw the legislation out and start again”.

Of course, the ultimate scrutiny lies in the ballot box, where the public can change its decision every four years.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be an informed decision: there is widespread lack of awareness of what the PCC role  entails, widespread not just amongst the electorate but also amongst journalists and politicians, panel members and police, and even, in the early days, some Police and Crime Commissioners.

PCCs are intended not to run the police but to scrutinise them, to be the Voice of the Public: the role includes not only extensive consultation with that public but also commissioning services for victims and crime prevention and bringing together community safety and criminal justice partners to ensure that locally agreed priorities are joined up.  PCCs are not thief-takers but communicators, consultants, negotiators, networkers, commissioners, contract sponsors and overseers of huge and complex budgets.  They are powerful local politicians, with a significant impact on Government policy.

Sadly, the public knows little of this extended remit, which the Home Secretary plans to augment further by adding responsibility for Fire and Rescue Services, thus handing another huge slice of public funding to people who may have no experience of either consultation or commissioning.

The Government is, as the Electoral Reform Society has pointed out, largely to blame for this widespread misunderstanding.  In late 2012, it ran a populist TV advertising campaign, portraying PCCs as a vigilante ‘Supercop’, an image which has largely stuck.

The Government then refused to allow PCC candidates to access the freepost leaflet to which candidates for parliamentary and European elections are entitled, with the inevitable result that most people had no idea for what or for whom they were supposed to be voting.  Indeed, the vast majority of people didn’t vote at all: the election was held on a rainy autumn day and the turn-out was 15.1%.  Hardly a triumph of popular democracy.

There are, of course, huge questions about the representation of minority communities and particularly of women.  In 2012, just 35 female candidates stood in 41 areas, so many slates were all-male affairs. The Labour party proudly stood 17 female candidates but, as with any election, the question of ‘winnability’ was stifled.  Closer examination  reveals that, of those 17, only 3 or 4 stood any chance of victory and, in the event, only two were elected – Jane Kennedy in Merseyside and Vera Baird in Northumbria.  Of the other 39 PCCs, only four are female; Conservatives Katy Bourne in Sussex and Julia Mulligan in North Yorkshire and independents Anne Barnes in Kent and Su Mountstevens in Avon and Somerset.  This makes a total of 14.6% compared with the then-government’s figure of 22%.

Disappointingly, the 2016 candidates appear to be even more male and pale, with just 29 women in the frame at time of writing, of whom the Labour party is fielding only six.  PCCs are supposed to represent the diversity of the public but the Supercop myth has led many to believe the self-fulfilling prophecy that‘it’s no role for a woman’.  Political parties and indeed groups of ‘independents’ need urgently to find a way of capturing that diversity for all devolved elections if the concept of community representation is to have any meaning at all.

 

This article was written for Fabiana, the magazine of The Fabian Women’s Network and was published by Fabiana on 12 April 2016. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Questions for your 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner Candidates

Earlier this week, the Committee for Standards in Public Life published their ‘PCC checklist’, asking all candidates hoping to become Police and Crime Commissioners at the May election to sign up to a standards checklist

The checklist calls for candidates to declare their approach to conduct, appointments and hospitality so that the public can make an informed judgement when casting their vote.  However, while the checklist is admirable, it is not user-friendly for voters who wish to know why candidates in their area are standing and how qualified each might be for the role.

Here are twenty questions which should give electors an idea what they might want to ask potential PCCs at hustings or via e-mail in order to establish the skill, experience and motivation of each candidate in their area and also to highlight any potential conflicts of interest.  Each question is supplemented with an explanation and with some suggestions as to how voters might interpret and follow up the answers they receive.

Question 1

a) What do you understand the key aspects of the police and crime commissioner’s role to be? 

b) How do you envisage that role changing over the next four years? 

c) How would you like the role to change?

a) PCCs are not Supercop. Their role is not to run policing but to scrutinise it and the key aspects of the role are to:

  • be the Voice of the People;
  • cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area;
  • hold the Chief Constable to account for running the force;
  • set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
  • set the force budget and determine the precept;
  • contribute to the national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary;
  • consult with the public to ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible;
  • work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime.

If a candidate says the role is to ‘hire and fire the chief constable’ ask them how often they plan on doing that during their term of office.

b) Every candidate should be familiar with the fact that the Home Secretary has, following the lead of Northamptonshire PCC Adam Simmonds,  stated that she plans to bring the fire and rescue services under the control of PCCs. Others may also mention the possibility of PCC remit being extended to include prisons and probation and the Crown Prosecution Service.

c) Opinions will be enlightening. It would be good if any particularly interesting suggestions could be entered in the ‘comments’ section at the end of this article.

Question 2

What have you previously done in your life that has prepared you for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner?

Because of the extraordinarily wide remit of the PCC you are ideally looking for someone with experience of working in or with the private, public and third sectors, experience in a related criminal justice field, experience of consultation with hard-to-reach groups, experience of commissioning services, experience of audit or scrutiny and experience of public office.  You will rarely find a candidate who combines all these qualities, but you should be looking for as many ticks as possible.

If a candidate says ‘Well, I was in the armed forces’ ask them to explain how that is relevant to the role.

If they say “I was a police officer “ask them firstly where (i.e. in which policing area) and if they were a representative of the Police Federation (the staff association for constables, sergeants and inspectors ) or of the Superintendents Association.

Ask them to explain how having been a police officer is relevant to the PCC role, which is intended to scrutinise not run the police, and whether they foresee any possible conflict of interest.  This is particularly important if they are standing for election in a force area in which they previously served and where, if elected. they will be responsible for investigating complaints against the same police who were recently their colleagues (and who, if they were a Fed or Supers rep, they may even have defended).

Ask how they will feel holding to account someone (i.e. the Chief Constable) whom they may recently have had to address as Sir or Ma’am.  Ask them how they think that Chief Constable will feel.  You are looking for some kind of empathic response, some idea that they have thought about the possibility of conflict of interest and have managed to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

It’s worth noting that the Office for Police Conduct, which will soon replace the IPCC will place an absolute restriction on the Director General (DG) from having worked for the police in any capacity.

Question 3

What experience do you have of commissioning services, particularly from the voluntary sector?

One of the roles of the PCC is to decide what services to buy with ever-decreasing funds and who to buy those services from.  The PCC is responsible for commissioning services for victims and for a range of community safety and crime prevention services.  Successful commissioning means delivering the right outcomes at the right cost.

Question 4

a) Which private security companies have approached you and what have they offered to do for you/sell you?  

b) Which private security companies do you already have links with via previous employment or sponsorship?

c) Will you make any such approaches/links known by publishing them on your website?

 

It’s highly likely that every candidate will be approached by private firms with an interest in providing post-election security solutions – companies such as G4S, Arqiva or Sepura.  Some candidates may previously have worked with or even for these companies.  Clearly, it is vital that such links are made transparent before elections take place so that voters can effectively scrutinise any post-election contracts.

Questions 5 to 9

5 What experience do you have of working in or with the private sector?

6 What experience do you have of working in or with the public sector?

7 What experience do you have of working in or with the third aka ‘voluntary’ sector?

8 What experience do you have of working in or with local authorities and across local authority divides?

9 What is your experience of working with/negotiating with unions? 

 One of the key roles of the PCC is to work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime.  The most important agencies locally are those in the public sector, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the health service, especially mental health services, and local government, especially social care and community safety.  However, there will also be key partnerships with the private sector – for example, Lincolnshire Police has, for several years, had a partnership with G4S which may well be expanded to other forces.   And many community safety and crime prevention services, such as services for victims and drug and alcohol services, are contracted out to the third or ‘voluntary’ sector.  Each of these sectors has a different set of priorities and working with them requires different skills.

Moreover, many of the community safety services will be limited to residents of a particular local authority area, or may be provided by different third-sector organisations in each local authority area.  PCCs are responsible for breaking down the silos which hamper commissioning and service delivery and need to demonstrate the sensitivity to change which such a challenge will demand. Finally, many police staff, including PCSOs, belong to a union (generally Unison), negotiation with which will be a key to the success of, for example, neighbourhood policing, an area in which PCSOs play an increasingly vital role.

 Question 10

a) What is your experience of working with volunteers?

b) What do you think the role is of volunteers in both policing and community safety?

c) What do you think it should be?

 As an increasing number of once-public services are handed over to the third or ‘voluntary’ sector, an understanding of the strengths and weakness of volunteer services becomes a prerequisite for ensuring effective service provision and delivery.

 In addition to the Special Constabulary, there are numerous ways in which the public can contribute to the criminal justice process.

Volunteers are cheaper than paid staff but they are by no means a free resource. Training, supervision and equipment are all expensive and those costs need to be considered whenever the silver bullet of ‘volunteers’ is fired.  There can also be a gap between the expectations of what the volunteer is willing to provide and the demands of the organisation, a gap which cannot be bridged by the traditional means of salary or other financial incentive.

Question 11

What previous experience do you have of the demands of public and/or elected office?

 Police and Crime Commissioners are elected politicians.  Indeed, they are very powerful local politicians, who control huge budgets and who have significant sway over Government policy. Are the candidates prepared for the demands that such a role will make on them and on their families?  Are they ready to communicate with the public, to respond not only to praise but also to criticism, in an open and transparent way?

 Question 12

a) What do you understand to be meant by the expression ‘hard-to-reach groups’? 

b) What experience do you have of consulting with such groups? 

c) What do you think the challenges might be?

 Politics is a business in which the loudest voices often achieve the best results.  Many people and groups are very able self-advocates, capable of expressing themselves, of pressing the urgency of their case on funders and politicians, of forcing themselves to the front of the consultation queue.  However, some of the groups who need the most support are those who find it hardest to self-advocate or to have their voices listened to. Young people, especially children in care and care leavers; homesless people; people who live in urban and/or educational poverty: people who live in rural areas and lack transport; people on the wrong side of the digital divide; people who have mental health problems or physical disabilities which impact on their ability to communicate; people who lack the self-confidence or self-importance needed to push themselves forward.  If candidates want to find out the views and needs of any of these more vulnerable groups, they will have to have some idea of how to go the extra mile because expecting hard-to-reach groups to respond to a survey on a website or come to a public meeting is simply not adequate.

 Question 13

What’s the most important to you – crime reduction or harm reduction?

 Harm reduction reduces demand on police and on other services far better than crime reduction does.   Voters should be looking to check that candidates appreciate the multidimensional role that police play in the community and understand that crime is a small part (about 20%) of policing demand.  Candidates should show an appreciation of the importance and the benefits of partnership working with agencies such as health (especially mental health) and local government (especially social care) to reduce harm and work towards positive outcomes for individuals and communities, reducing anti social behaviour, crime & repeated reliance on agency intervention.  If a candidate demonstrates any knowledge of harm indices, that is a welcome bonus.

Question 14

What is your opinion of the use of numerical targets monitoring crime and community safety?

 It’s vital that candidates understand the difference between targets, measures and priorities.   Systems thinkers, including those in policing, know that numerical targets lead inexorably to dysfunctional behaviour, and even more so if achieving the target will lead to a performance related prize or penalty  (bonus, promotion, demotion).  If your candidate says that s/he thinks numerical targets are motivational, ask how s/he can be sure that in chasing that target, people won’t be tempted to a) ignore other important but non-targeted aspects of their work b) cheat (it’s technically called ‘gaming’ but cheating is what we mean).

 Question 15

Are you a freemason or a member of any other invitation-only club or society?

 Freemasonry has long been accused of causing inequality in the criminal justice system – notably in the judiciary and the police.     Clearly, there is nothing wrong with being a freemason any more than there is being a member of Rotary International or of the Lions Club.  However, transparency is a key aspect of electoral office, so it is obviously preferable for all such memberships to be brought to light before the elections take place.

 Question 16

Where does your funding come from?

 In the 2012 elections, no central funding was provided for Conservative candidates, who covered their costs and expenses either themselves or by holding fundraisers.  The central Labour party stumped up the £5000 deposit for all Labour candidates but all other costs and expenses were either paid for by local constituency Labour parties (i.e. by local Labour members’ subs) or came from the candidates’ own, rather shallower, pockets.  Like the Conservative candidates, Independent candidates had to fund their own campaigns.  Some accepted funding from local businessmen, others self-funded.  You need to ask every candidate where the money is coming from, not only to reassure yourself that they are not being funded secretly by a political grouping that is in opposition to your own broad political stance but also to prevent yourself from being conned into believing that every party-sponsored politician has access to a bottomless pit of gold.

Question 17

How do you intend to raise awareness of the police and crime commissioner’s role and the related accountability framework?

In 2012, the turnout for the PCC elections was a paltry 15.1% and public awareness of the entire police accountability framework has remained low.   Much of the blame for this can be laid firmly at the government’s door, given that they refused to fund the freepost leaflets which benefit both MPs and MEPs.  However, locally, it is the role of the PCC to boost awareness not only of his or her own candidacy and position but also for the nature of the role itself, as well as of the structures to which the PCC is in turn accountable.

Question 18

What do you think the shortcomings of the PCCs legislation are in respect of the twin aspects of scrutiny and governance?  What would you suggest to the Home Secretary that might improve those aspects?

 PCCs are intended not to run the police but to scrutinise them and the PCCs are in turn scrutinised by a new layer of governance, the Police and Crime Panels.  These, sadly, have largely proven to be toothless, with a 2014 National Audit Office report saying that they “lack powers”.

As with the old Police Authorities, Police and Crime Panels are comprised largely of local councillors, in a political ratio which reflects that of the police force area. However, instead of jointly holding the Chief Constable to account, the panel is now holding to account an elected politician who will, in many cases, be of the same political hue as the majority of the panel members.  The ‘holding to account’ thus becomes less ‘opposition scrutiny’ and more a rubber-stamping exercise. One panel member in Hertfordshire resigned sayingIt’s a waste of time, money and space. They need to throw the legislation out and start again”.

Any candidate who has thought carefully about the role should want the legislation to be revised and the PCP’s role to be strengthened

Of course, the ultimate scrutiny lies in the ballot box, where the public can change its decision every four years.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be an informed decision, given the widespread lack of awareness of what the PCC role entails, widespread not just amongst the electorate but also amongst journalists and politicians, panel members and police, and even, in the early days, some Police and Crime Commissioners.

 Question 19

There are very few women or people from minority ethnic groups standing as PCC candidates and even fewer are likely to be elected.  How do you think this stark underrepresentation might be addressed?

 PCCs are supposed to represent the diversity of the public but the Supercop myth has led many to believe the self-fulfilling prophecy that ‘it’s no role for a woman’.  In 2012, just 35 female candidates stood in 41 areas.  Many slates were all-male affairs and just six women were elected – Conservatives Katy Bourne in Sussex and Julia Mulligan in North Yorkshire; Labour’s Jane Kennedy in Merseyside and Vera Baird in Northumbria; and independents Anne Barnes in Kent and Su Mountstevens in Avon and Somerset.  This makes a total of 14.6% compared with the then-government’s figure of 22%.  Disappointingly, the 2016 candidate list appears to be even more male-dominated.  All candidates should have some suggestions about balancing underrepresentation by appointing deputies or community ambassadors and should also be able to talk about positive discrimination, whether or not they agree with it.

 Question 20

What do you think your biggest challenge is going to be?

 Some of the biggest challenges are:

  • managing the relationship with the Chief Constable, which is absolutely fundamental to making a public, private and personal success of the role of Police and Crime Commissioner
  • ensuring the safety of the public in an era when public finances are suffering an unprecedented squeeze
  • overseeing structural change
  • understanding ‘harm v crime’ and conveying that understanding to the public
  • and, for those who have never face that level of public scrutiny, adapting to being an elected politican

And one more for luck:

 Question 21

Have you signed up to the CSPL’s Ethical Checklist, and will you embed the College’s Code within your own office?

 

This article was written for Policing Insight and was first published on the Policing Insight website in 23 March 2016 where it has attracted some interesting comments. 

Caveat Elector

Or:  why it might not be such a great idea for ex-police officers to become Police and Crime Commissioners and the myth of political independence.

I have written previously about one ex-police officer-turned-Police and Crime Commissioner’s endless quest for the holy grail of free publicity.  It is inevitable that such incidents will raise again and again the thorny question of whether it is really appropriate for ex-police officers to be able to become Police and Crime Commissioners, particularly for the same forces where they served as officers so, with the second set of PCC elections taking place in May, this seems an appropriate moment to consider in more detail not only this question but also the related matters of the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner and the nature of political ‘independence’..

Keeping politics out of policing? 

The election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012 was the fulfilment of a Conservative manifesto promise from 2010, a promise that had its origins in a Policy Exchange Report dating from 2003: Going Local; who should run Britain’s Police? 

The promise formed part of the new Government’s commitment to police ‘reform’, which can itself be traced back to David Cameron’s interest in the 1993 Sheehy Report.  As with every other aspect of the Government’s Localism agenda, Police and Crime Commissioners were clearly designed to keep the Government at arm’s length from any blame or responsibility that might result from cuts to policing and community safety budgets.  Nevertheless, the relationship between Policy Exchange and the Prime Minister’s own policy unit is itself well worth exploring, if you have the time.

When, in 2011, the timetable for the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners was announced, the Home Secretary said she was expecting ‘big hitters’: well-known public figures who might take on the role of fronting up crime and public safety provision and initiatives across the country.  There was even talk of Richard Branson taking up a post.  However, this ambition fell at an early hurdle, as potential candidates realised how complex (and controversial) the role was, how much time it would take up and how little (in their eyes) reward they would receive.

Meanwhile, retired police officers across the country protested about what they saw as a political takeover, complaining loudly about the need to ‘Keep Politics Out of Policing’, conveniently ignoring the fact that politics has always been an essential aspect of policing, not least because the spending of public money is, in itself, a political act.  Those senior police officers who have trodden the hallowed boards of the ACPO (now NPCC) corridor are certainly no strangers to politics.

‘In my day…’

The result was that the 2012 elections returned a rag-bag of victors: the 41 PCCs included a mix of local business people,  former armed forces officers, local and national politicians (most of whom had had previous careers as, for example, barristers, social workers, electricians), a TV presenter and eight ex-police officers, most of whom had stood as so-called ‘independents’ although one of these was, at the time of the election, a member of the Liberal Democrat party.   Of these, some had left the police early (no-one seems to have asked why*), many had served in the very forces they were now charged with overseeing and none had made it to the rank of Chief Constable (or the Metropolitan Police equivalent).

Here lies the first problem.  One of the roles of the Police and Crime Commissioner is to hold to account’  the Chief Constable of a police force, with the ultimate sanction of dismissal or termination of contract.  We are immediately confronted with the prospect of a retired police officer who failed to reach the top of his profession (and yes, they are currently all male), holding the career of a Chief Constable (maybe even the Chief Constable under whom he had previously served) in the palm of his hand.

This situation was designed to lead to conflict and promptly did so.  Very soon after the November elections, Carmel Napier, the then-Chief Constable of Gwent Police, left her post abruptly.  It later emerged that she had been told to “retire or be removed“, as the new PCC, Ian Johnston, an ex-Chair of the Superintendents’ Association, who had previously served with Gwent Police, believed her managerial style was “unacceptably dismissive, abrupt and unhelpful“.

Of course, the relationship between Chiefs and PCCs was always going to be fraught,  with the PCC always at risk of overstepping the line between policy and operations, but there is little doubt that the risk of overstepping that mark, of blundering accidentally or even deliberately into operational territory, is far greater if you are an ex-police officer who thinks they know how the job should be done/used to be done than it is by someone with no preconceptions but a wealth of transferable skills and experience gained in other, related fields.

Imagine how frustrating would it have been for Chief Constables who wanted to move on and make progress, who were under external pressure to adopt cooperative, partnership working  styles, such as that exemplified by Greater Manchester, to be repeatedly told ‘In my day…..’

*A non-exhaustive list of reasons for leaving early might include: demands of family; physical or mental health issues; ethical disagreement with local or national policing policies (eg the imposition of arbitrary numerical targets); equality issues; the offer of a better job elsewhere; a move to academia;  coming in to an inheritance; the avoidance of disciplinary action.

‘She’s not that into you…’

More recently, Surrey’s PCC Kevin Hurley hit the headlines following the appointment of Lynne Owens, the ex-Chief Constable of Surrey Police, as Chief Executive of the National Crime Agency.  Mr Hurley acquired lots more free publicity by announcing that he had ‘considered’ taking disciplinary action against Mrs Owens before she left the force – though he hadn’t actually done so.

(It’s probably worth noting that, when Mr Hurley was still a Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, there was a period of time during which Mrs Owens was the Deputy Assistant Commissioner to whom his own line manager reported.  So much for ‘flatter management‘ eh?).

Mr Hurley’s primary objection to Mrs Owens’ appointment at the NCA appeared to be that the Home Secretary hadn’t asked for his opinion: indeed, his deputy claimed Mrs May had acted without ‘due diligence’., as if the application process were not itself sufficiently robust. Maybe Mr Hurley had forgotten that, in 2012, he had sought the Tory PCC nomination in Surrey but that, when he was rejected, he stood against and then beat the official Tory candidate on a ‘Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief’ ticket. In politics, these things have a way of coming back to bite you.

 Not Supercop

There is some evidence to indicate that the public has expressed a preference for ex-police officers to be Police and Crime Commissioners.  However, there is a real possibility that this preference stems largely from widespread lack of awareness of what the role actually entails, widespread not just amongst the electorate but also amongst journalists, politicians, candidates, the police and even, in the early days, some Police and Crime Commissioners.

Many people believe the role of a PCC to be primarily about policing when in fact it is about consultation and commissioning, breaking down silos and joining up public and criminal justice services.

The Government is, as the Electoral Reform Society has pointed out, largely to blame for this widespread misunderstanding.  In late 2012, it ran a populist TV advertising campaign, portraying PCCs as some kind of vigilante ‘Supercop’, an image which has stuck and which some PCCs now exploit.  This misrepresentation was exacerbated by the Policy Exchange-run website which became the go-to resource for information on PCC candidates but which was (deliberately?) mis-named ‘Police Elections’.

The Government then refused to allow PCC candidates to send the freepost leaflet to which candidates for parliamentary and European elections are entitled, with the inevitable result that most people had no idea for what or for whom they were supposed to be voting.  Indeed, the vast majority of people didn’t vote at all: the election was held on a rainy day in November, with no simultaneous ballots and the turn-out was 15.1%.  Hardly a triumph of popular democracy.

So before the country heads to the polls in May, it would be good if more people understood the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner, which is more like that of a glorified MP than that of a glorified Chief Constable.  Indeed, the PCC replaces not the Chief Constable but the Police Authority, the body closely linked to local government which used to hold the Chief to account.

However, PCCs have a much wider remit than the Police Authority did, dealing not just with policing but also with wider aspects of community safety, so it’s wise to focus less on the word ‘police’ and more on the word ‘commissioner’.

PCCs are intended not to run the police but to scrutinise them.  They are the Voice of the Public. The role includes not only extensive consultation with that public, including harder-to-reach groups, but also commissioning services for victims, crime prevention and community safety, such as drug and alcohol services, and bringing together community safety and criminal justice partners to make sure that locally agreed priorities are joined up.

The nub of the role is for PCCs to decide what services they are going to buy with their ever-decreasing funds and who they are going to buy those services from.  For example, do we want ‘the police’ to do our policing?  Or are we happy for it to be farmed out to G4S?

Sadly, the public knows little of this and, unsurprisingly, appears to care even less and meanwhile an ever-increasing slice of public service is being handed over to people who may have no proven skills in the wider areas of consultation or commissioning.

And now the Home Secretary says that she wants to add to that extensive remit responsibility for the Fire and Rescue Service, though it is hard to see what police forces and fire and rescue services have in common other than the occasional blue light.

Nevertheless, such a move will make PCCs even less like police, even less like that mythical Supercop.  In fact, PCCs are very emphatically #NotPolice but full-time, professional politicians, a fact that many ex-police officers  still try to gloss over.

The NARPO army

From this vantage point, the worst-case scenario would be a cohort of ex-police officers organising themselves to stand in every area and allowing, if not encouraging, the public to fall for the ‘Supercop‘ myth.

This would be the opposite of the heightened accountability promised by the Home Office.  It would be an obfuscation of political intent, a confusion of the interests of the public with those of the police, a deliberate subversion of the Home Office’s desire for independent scrutiny of policing.  Indeed, it would be little short of a coup.

The eight current ex-police officer PCCs are: Cheshire’s John Dwyer (ex-Cheshire Constabulary, highest, rank, Assistant Chief Constable) , Durham’s Ron Hogg (Labour) (ex-Durham Constabulary and ex-Cleveland Police, Deputy Chief Constable), Surrey’s Kevin Hurley (ex-Metropolitan Police, Chief Superintendent, not Chief Constable as his Zero Tolerance ticket might have implied); Gwent’s Ian Johnston (ex-Gwent Police, Chief Superintendent); West Mercia’s Bill Longmore (ex- Staffordshire Police, Superintendent); North Wales’s Winston Roddick (ex-Merseyside Police, highest rank unknown); Gloucestershire’s Martin Surl (ex-Gloucestershire Police, Superintendent) and Dorset’s Martyn Underhill (ex-Metropolitan Police and ex-Sussex Police, DCI).

Some of these PCCs have done an excellent job and there is no question that some ex-police officers would be able to carry out this incredibly demanding role without finding themselves compromised at any stage.  There is, however, a huge question over whether every ex-police officer candidate will possess the necessary distance, the necessary critical eye, the necessary wider vision and experience to do the role full justice, to be able to be the voice of the public rather than that of the police.

This is particularly the case if they are elected in the force area where they were an officer, where they have an intimate knowledge of existing procedures and personnel.  Contemplate for a moment the example of Martin Surl, who retired from Gloucestershire Police as a Superintendent in January 2012.  By the November of the same year, he was PCC and holding the Chief Constable to account as the voice of the public.   How can a situation which leaves so much potential for conflict of interest be in the spirit of the policy and of the legislation?

Moreover, what if there were a concerted effort to encourage ex-police officers to stand for election, to add the hefty PCC salary to their policing pensions? We know that ex-sergeant Mike Pannett, who served in both the Metropolitan and the North Yorkshire Police Services and who objected vociferously to the very concept of PCCs back in 2012, has now changed his mind and is standing for election in North Yorkshire.  Imagine if he were followed by ex-colleagues country-wide.

Certainly, such candidates would have little problem tapping into the waiting army of their local branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO), relying on their ex-colleagues not only to provide the necessary 100 signatures for nomination, but also to cough up £50 each for the £5000 deposit and to pound the streets delivering leaflets in an effort to keep the public out of policing.

We have already examined the potential for dramatic conflict between the incoming PCC and the incumbent Chief Constable.   Some PCCs are currently extending their current Chief’s contract, in an effort to provide some certainty in the face of the uncertainly of politics.

What would the effect of such a ‘coup’ be on community representation?   It would very likely lead to an almost total lack of diversity.  PCCs are supposed to represent the public in all its glorious variety.  Most local politicians, drawn directly from their communities and from a variety of professional backgrounds, are already too male, pale and stale.  If that tendency to male, pale staleness is exacerbated by the election of homogeneous PCCs, who all previously did the same job, who all have similar mindsets, the ideal of diversity flies out the window.  Eight out of 41 PCCs are currently white, male, late-middle-aged ex-police officers :  do we really need more?

It might also be worth reflecting on the high percentage of police officers who have previously served in the notoriously change-resistant Metropolitan Police Service and the possibility that male ex-police officers may also be members of closed organisations such as Masonic Lodges (yes, women can be masons too, but it is much less likely).  Dorset’s PCC, Martyn Underhill, was forced to declare his Masonic membership shortly before his 2012 election, when all four Dorset candidates came under close scrutiny, and this membership is still listed on his website under  ‘Disclosable Interests’  Did candidates in other areas face the same level of scrutiny?  Will they face it this time around?

The ‘coup’ will never happen, you say; but if you asked for the names of some possible candidates it would be easy to suggest some and who is to say what axes they might have to grind?  If we were looking for (in)credible people who might fit the bill, how about David Morgan QPM in Dyfed-Powys?  Ex-Met PC and numerical targets whistleblower James Patrick in Essex?  Ex-Met PC and self-styled policing commentator Cate Moore in Lincolnshire?  Ex-Police Federation Rep Clive Chamberlain in Somerset?.  Ex-Chair of the Police Federation Association Jan Berry in Kent?  The list could easily go on.  Of course, Jan Berry was shortlisted for the Tory PCC nomination in Kent in summer 2012, and championed by Nick Herbert MP, only to be beaten to it by Craig McKinley, a former deputy leader of UKIP and now a Tory MP, who turned out to be the highest spending candidate of the entire PCC election (and still lost).

The opacity of independence

On what ticket would these putative candidates stand?  As ‘Independents’?  They would patently not be that – they may not belong to a mainstream political party but they would be affiliated to their own ‘ex-policing’ party in all but name.  Or they might even be allowed to join Mr Hurley’s personal ‘Zero Tolerance’ party, which would open the door to all the advantages of party affiliation.

The question of ‘independence’ is of course wholly relevant.  ‘Independence’ is the least transparent of political labels.  Political alignment is a kind of shorthand.  It lets voters know what the candidate’s core values are, which way s/he is likely to lean in a gale. And, unlike with ‘independent‘ candidates, for whom there is no pre-selection, no pre-scrutiny, it lets the voters know who is funding the campaign, that there’s a group of people who trust this individual enough to let him or her be their representative. This is particularly important in PCC elections, as there is so little central direction for PCCs.  There’s nothing equivalent to the Westminster whipping system for PCCs, who have to be responsible for their own decisions.

People tend to think that political ‘independence’ means ‘thinks like me’, which it almost certainly doesn’t.  What ‘independence’ does say is ‘I won’t tell you what my views are, which philosophy I adhere to, what floats my boat, who is pulling my strings.‘  So unless you as a voter are prepared to quiz an independent candidate personally, at length and in depth, and then hold them to account for their views, voting ‘independent’ is a bran-tub, a raffle, a lucky (or unlucky) dip.

As we have already noted, during the 2012 election, many retired and former police officers, not only those who were candidates but also those who styled themselves as commentators, focussed on the need to ‘Keep Politics Out of Policing’ .  However, just after the elections, it became apparent that, although he was running as an Independent, Winston Roddick was in fact a member of the Liberal Democrat party, but had not wished to disclose that during the elections.  Moreover, not long after that election, Mike Pannett, who is standing as an independent in North Yorkshire and has adopted a ‘Now then, lad’ Herriott-esque approach to campaigning, started to tweet frequently about his visits to the Shadow Policing Minister, Jack Dromey MP, to whom he appears to have been an informal adviser in the run-up to the 2015 General Election.  Maybe this helps to explain why the Labour Party has dropped its former objections to Police and Crime Commissioners and now has a policing policy fit for the year 2000.

Follow the money

It is of course also salient to ask who is funding these campaigns.  NARPO members may be prepared to stump up £50 for the sake of old times, but they won’t want to fund a £20k campaign.  I use this figure as an example because it is just less than ex-police officer Martyn Underhill spent on his successful 2012 campaign.  A significant proportion of his funding came from the founder of Lush Cosmetics, more from local landlord Dave Wells.  Other ‘independent’ candidates may have funded their own campaigns or they may have sought support from elsewhere.

Certainly, PCC candidates and postholders will frequently be approached by companies with services to sell, companies such as Arquiva and, yes, G4S.  In addition, many retired police officers work for security-related organisations which would have a vested interest in gaining a foot in the wider PCC community.  It might be in the interests of any of these companies to fund a PCC campaign in expectation of plenty.

Caveat elector

There is, of course, nothing fundamentally wrong in any of this but, as candidates are not obliged to name their funders before the elections take place, it does mean that the electorate is voting blind and that the candidates may not be quite as ‘independent’ as they claim, in the widely understood sense of that word, so beware, elector, beware.

What is wrong is for anyone, including  former police officers and particularly including some incumbent PCCs, to misrepresent the role of Police and Crime Commissioner.  It is not solely or even primarily about policing. It is not about wreaking vengeance on criminals or masquerading as Supercop.  Police and Crime Commissioners are not thief-takers or peace-keepers or law-enforcers.  They are communicators, consultants, negotiators, networkers, commissioners, contract sponsors and overseers of huge and complex budgets and, above all, they are scrutineers.  It’s a politician’s role, a very powerful one which is set to become increasingly powerful, with deliberately weak oversight in the form of the Police and Crime Panel.  And it’s a role that needs desperately to be filled by someone with the relevant experience, qualities and skills.

This does, of course, pose some legitimate questions about the selection processes followed by some of the mainstream political parties, and I will be addressing this matter in a future article.

In the meantime:  caveat elector.

Trumped!

Last week, many people will have been astonished to read this article on a Police and Crime Commissioner’s Facebook page.

The article picked up by the Get Surrey website and later attracted the attention of the BBC and the national press:

I wanted to go and see the stabber and batter him. I wanted to break his legs”  said Kevin Hurley of the 68-year-old offender.  This is a Police and Crime Commissioner, one who used to be a relatively senior police officer and who is now responsible for community safety in Surrey, openly expressing a desire to inflict physical violence on pensioners and, in doing so, giving a green light to vigilantism.

It’s not the first time that this particular PCC has talked about meting out corporal punishment to offenders.  Last spring, he was busy advocating Saudi-style ‘justice’, suggesting on Twitter that he would happily chop off the hands of ‘third time thieves’ on his way to work.

Clearly, most reasonable people will be horrified at the thought of an elected official advocating such brutality, no matter how much s/he sugar-coats it as ‘supporting victims’.  The idea of the lex talionis, of ‘eye for an eye’ retribution, is one which civilized societies have long abandoned.

Had this been a member of Parliament, I have no doubt that there would have been furious cries for resignation, but the profile of PCCs is so low that such behaviour seems to go largely unnoticed and, in any case, Mr Hurley appears to be coated in an enviable variety of Teflon. When a few brave souls tried to challenge his views on social media, he was stoutly defended by his deputy, who is also an ex-police officer.

These events remind me of nothing so much as those surrounding that supreme self-publicising populist, Donald Trump.  When Mr Trump recently announced that he wouldn’t take part in a debate, his very refusal then dominated media coverage.

Mr Hurley is coming up for re-election in May and his primary campaigning tactic, like Mr Trump’s, appears to be to appeal to base instincts, cause maximum outrage and then bask in the resulting free publicity.

Caveat elector.

 

The Brightest Flame: reprise

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” Lao Tzu

Dom was my beloved friend for quarter of a century. He had just turned nineteen when he first served me a pizza in Pozzi’s, his father’s Algarve restaurant, wielding the pepper grinder with unmistakeable panache.

In the very first photo I took of him, he is wearing a Cure t-shirt, dark glasses (at night) and the insouciant expression that everyone who knew him would instantly recognise.

We bonded immediately. I spent days and weeks with Dom, his parents and his cat, Gorby. He interviewed me on his radio chat show, a ‘Desert Island Discs’ that was only limited by Radio Lagoa‘s rather small record collection, and, when he moved to London, he became my lodger, which was something of a rollercoaster ride.

We revelled in each other’s company because we had so much in common: eclectic tastes in music and movies, in food and travel, a fondness for multilingual wordplay and, most importantly, an irreverent, and at times, salacious, sense of humour. We shared great times, in Portugal and Spain, in the UK and the US, on the phone and also on social media, where Dom’s private and bawdy facebook page brought his many friends together.

It was with Dom that I made my first-ever trip to Dorset, the county which has now been my home for more than 15 years. We set off on a road-trip early one Sunday morning in June, visiting in quick succession Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dorchester (which appeared to be shut) and Portland Bill, where Dom would, years later, stand frozen with terror on Pulpit Rock. We failed to find Weymouth’s famous beach so headed off to Cerne Abbas, where we marvelled at the endowment of the chalky giant, and then crossed Salisbury Plain to the prehistoric White Horse at Uffington, where we sat and watched the sun draw its shadowy fingers across the vale. Years later, I bought him a clock shaped like the Cerne Abbas Giant in remembrance of that rose-tinted day.

In return, Dom sent me gifts from all over the world: a fridge magnet from St Lucia, a toy puffin from San Diego, a hat from Afghanistan. The postman showed an interest when we started receiving postcards from Iraq and, on the damp January afternoon when I pulled a Pakistani burka out of a stained and greasy parcel in the middle of a Weymouth cafe, a frisson ran around the entire room.

Many of Dom’s colleagues wrote warmly about his journalistic prowess, homing in on his professionalism and his courage, but even the best of these showed no more than a sliver of the Dom we knew, the Dom who was so much more than just a journalist.

Dom loved cats and lemurs, Chinese restaurants and pasteis de nata, his land in Colorado and his truck, the biggest, reddest, most red-neck of all the trucks. He loved playing Cards Against Humanity and was unbeatable at The Hat Game. He was intelligent, witty, smutty (so smutty!), flamboyant, hilarious, a lusophile, an arabist, a polyglot, a film fan and photographer with an eclectic taste in music who loved The Cure, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys but also Madredeus, mariachi and Raul Malo.

He was a good drinker, a better cook, a globe-trotter, a risk-taker, at times hedonistic, at others ascetic, constantly surprising and full of lust for life with an unforgettable, contagious, braying laugh.

He was gregarious and yet intensely private, at times outrageously brash and yet capable of lacerating insight, a friend-maker and a heart-breaker, not the most reliable of people but the brightest flame I ever saw and I will never know his like again.

Go safely, Dom. We remember you with love and laughter.
Beijinhos, menino. Que te vaya con Dios. xxx