New home sec ignores police & outlines plans for “elected individuals”

New home secretary Theresa May ignored the concerns of senior officers today by pressing ahead with plans for "elected individuals" to oversee police forces.

New home secretary Theresa May ignored the concerns of senior officers today by pressing ahead with plans for “elected individuals” to oversee police forces – though she did tone down the rhetoric, taking out all reference to “elected police commissioners” in her speech, a phrase she had used on a visit to a south London estate last week and one which her aides had briefed would be in the speech.

She said:

“Locally-elected individuals are a giant step in the right direction… They will not manage their forces and they will recognize that the only way of making a police force effective is by letting the professionals get on with it.

“The duty and responsibility of managing a police force will fall squarely on the shoulders of its chief constable – as it always has done. The job of the elected individual is to ensure the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible.

There was no mention of policing in the coalition agreement, though the two governing parties’ manifestos both made pledges to elect police authorities. The Conservative Party manifesto (page 57) pledged to “replace the existing, invisible and unaccountable police authorities and make the police accountable to a directly-elected individual who will set policing priorities for local communities”.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto (page 72), meanwhile, pledged to give “local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities”, and to “give far more power to elected police authorities, including the right to sack and appoint the Chief Constable, set local policing priorities, and agree and determine budgets.

Last month, Left Foot Forward warned of the risks of introducing elected commissioners; they would overly-politicise policing – for instance introducing pressures to provide more police in wealthier areas where more people vote than in deprived areas where there is more crime, and the obvious risk of giving so much power to one elected individual in an area as delicate as policing – the possibility of a BNP police commissioner could turn from a nightmare into reality.

In February, Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, told The Independent that:

“The experiences of America shows us that the risk of a greater degree of accountability is corruption. If you are a police chief and you have got an officer like Dizaei who is popular with the media but you are worried about his behaviour, the problem is you would have a mayor or politician in your ear saying ‘just remember who promotes you and can dismiss you’.

“The possibility of that happening is a real disincentive. Politicians need to recognise that it is an explicit risk.”

The Association of Chief Police Officers had also voiced concern over the plans. In a statement during the election campaign, ACPO said:

“Policing must not be influenced, nor appear to be so, by political bias. To allow it to be influenced in such a manner undermines the fundamental principles of British policing.”

And Sir Hugh Orde, president of ACPO, last year warned that communities might end up with a “lunatic” or Fascist running their force. The Standard reports that:

“Asked whether he feared a BNP or far-Right candidate could seize upon this, Sir Hugh replied: ‘Yes, that is a risk. If you have a system whereby anyone can stand to be elected as the local police commissioner, you could have any Tom, Dick or Harriet standing.

“If they can muster enough support against a backdrop of public apathy, then of course it is a risk.'”

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