Policing is political already – why should police commissioners hide their allegiance?


 

By Jon Harvey, an independent facilitator and adviser with the police services and justice agencies and a Town Councillor (Labour) in Buckingham

There has been much talk of late about the need for ‘independent’ candidates to stand in the forthcoming Police & Crime Commissioner contests and to avoid the ‘politicisation’ of policing.

John-PrescottFor example, on Question Time on February 16th we watched Baroness Kramer giving this Liberal Democrat Party line, despite growing rumblings from the grassroots.

We also seen the rousing debate between ex-Chief Constable Tim Brain and Lord Prescott where there was a small skirmish over Sir Robert Peel’s street cred. Is policing political or not? To gather some direct evidence, I sat in on a meeting of the Thames Valley Police Authority a few weeks ago.

This was the second meeting I had been to in the last couple of months and rather charmingly I was shown my ‘usual spot’ in the corner. I was again the only member of the public present. The two other observers were the press and the local Police Federation.

I was keen to see how politics featured in the proceedings, if at all.

There were no mentions of party politics. But political discussion there was:

• Near the beginning a small spat was aired as to which local council will be hosting the new Police and Crime Panel – the local authority controlled body that will scrutinise the Police and Crime Commissioner.

• Later on the Authority discussed and resolved to set a 0% increase in precept. The members had been persuaded to take a one off grant from the Government in exchange for freezing their part of the council tax precept.

This has been the source of much debate around the country with recent headlines emerging from North Wales and Gloucestershire where Chiefs and PAs have had some ‘robust’ discussions. It is a political decision for the resources to be drawn from central government rather than be raised by council tax precept.

• A request was made to use the word ‘aims’ rather than ‘targets’ in their delivery plan, even though everyone acknowledged that they meant the same thing. But of course we have a Government committed to removing targets.

• Some of the most political discussion was concerning the use of reserves. Questions were raised about whether the (roughly) 5% reserve that the Thames Valley Treasury holds was really necessary given the policy of 3%.

Others suggested that an incoming Police and Crime Commissioner might use such ‘excess’ to boost their last year of office in support of their re-election. There was much wry laughter when one person said this presupposed that the incoming PCC would want to be re-elected in any case;

• And there was politics in the further discussion about the delivery plan. Several people spoke up for the need to include a specific mention of rural communities rather than isolated ones, for example. The complex issues around race disproportionality and stop & search were explored.

Policing is already politicised when we have police authorities and police chief officers establishing outsourcing arrangements with private sector firms such as with Lincolnshire Police, whose deal (pdf) with controversial security service G4S on information exchange and specific contracting is now beginning – with added approving commentary from the local Conservative Association.

West Midlands and Surrey police services have similar deals in the pipeline.

Policing is not politically neutral. When we have the relationship between the Met Police, News International and politicians, being scrutinised by the Leveson Inquiry, policing is not neutral. The very nature of policing is a political one. Of course, nobody wants to see politicians, be they elected or appointed, independent or with a party tag meddling in everyday policing.

Neither will the PCCs have any scope to challenge the operational and professional independence of the Chief Constables and their teams, as Lord Prescott has affirmed in the Guardian – but decisions around the level and deployment of scare resources are inevitably political ones. The PCCs will have the power to set budgets and plans for their police force.

And so if any independent PCCs are elected to make such political decisions, I hope that the voters supporting them will understand, in detail, their values, past political affiliations, interests, loyalties and preferences.

Should they have to declare which football team they support – political or otherwise?

See also:

Boris is putting the police back behind desksJenny Jones, February 24th 2012

Resources, powers and accountability – the three big issues facing the police in 2012Kevin Meagher, January 5th 2012

The creeping militarisation of our police must be resistedKevin Meagher, December 9th 2011

Anger with police sparked the riotsBen Mitchell, December 4th 2011

Cameron “ignorant or disingenuous” on frontline police cutsWill Straw, August 11th 2011

This entry was posted in Public Services for All and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Pingback: Jon Collins()

  • Pingback: Jon Collins()

  • JC

    “Policing is already politicised when we have police authorities and police chief officers establishing outsourcing arrangements with private sector firms such as with Lincolnshire Police, whose deal with controversial security service G4S on information exchange and specific contracting is now beginning – with added approving commentary from the local Conservative Association. West Midlands and Surrey police services have similar deals in the pipeline.”

    I don’t think this makes it politicised. The fact that the local Conservative Association makes approving comments is no different from Left Foot Forward making disapproving comments. You might want to make the system a political choice, but I don’t think it should be.

    If Lord Prescott feels he can be a successful Police Commissionaire and deal with the needs of the local people, then he should stand. If he is standing in order to drive his views of national and international politics into his local police force, then I think he will fail.

  • Pingback: TopOfTheCops()

  • Pingback: Political Planet()

  • Pingback: Pulp Ark()

  • Pingback: KMJ()

  • Pingback: Chris Paul()

  • Pingback: House Of Twits()

  • Rupert

    Funny how Google indexed this “The complex issues around race disproportionality and stop & search were explored. Policing is already politicised when we have police” And its now no longer in the texts.

    When will the Labour Party start to tackle the social justice issues that relate to the deep seated unfairness in our criminal justice system?

  • Pingback: BevR()

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: ThamesValley Pol Fed()

  • Jon Harvey

    “Policing is already politicised when we have police” – was never in my article – I can only think this was a mistake.

    I certainly hope that Labour PCCs will be doing all in their power to tackle social justice issues & unfairness in the criminal justice system.

  • Jon Harvey

    I hope that whoever gets elected of whatever hue will see it as their job to be the voice of local people and hold the CC to account with these views very much in mind. But the approach they take to (say) budget setting and outsourcing will be political acts. My article is about the need for people who stand as independents to be crystal clear with the electorate so that people know where they stand.

    To make a political point – Messrs Cameron & Lansley were elected (partly) on the strength of their promise not have a large top down restructure of the NHS. This is a promise they are about to break when (in all likelihood – though I shudder at the thought) that the Health Bill is given Royal assent. This has meant some people saying you can never trust a Tory with the NHS. Knowing where people are coming from matters.

    So I hope that all candidates will be clear about their views on outsourcing for example.

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • JC

    I didn’t realise that outsourcing was a political issue. Do the police manufacture their own paper, computers, bricks and clothing, or do they buy these in?

  • Pingback: Police commissioners: Labour must seize the opportunity with both hands | Left Foot Forward()

  • Jon Harvey

    Outsourcing computing systems to (say) the cloud could well be a political issue as well an ethical one given the sensitive nature of the information held. Outsourcing patrol (as the OJEU notice from WestMIds and Surrey police includes) could well be, um, a political issue.

    There will be PCC candidates who will gloss over outsourcing as being purely a managerial issue – there will be other candidates who will declare outright resistance to any further privatisation and there will be still more who will say they are highly sceptical and who worry about the long term consequences.

    I am in the third camp. Just as with the proposed extreme marketisation of the NHS that may well be about to slip ignominiously onto the statute book (notwithstanding this weekend’s LibDem conference – although I am not exactly holding my breath – I remain hopeful…) – what will suffer most in the creation of the nH$ is seamless & integrated care. Just as if PCSOs were to be outsourced to a private security company – this will mean that the public may only get to see a warranted officer in times of extreme stress.

    When PCSOs were first introduced – many people argued against them (and still do) on the basis that community policing would be fragmented as a result of the public seeing ‘real’ police in only extreme circumstances. Outsourcing would take such a worry to another level.

  • Pingback: Cllr Jon Harvey()

  • Pingback: Police Commissioners: Less machismo, more safeguarding vital services | Left Foot Forward()