On November 15th everyone who does not live in London is invited to elect one of the 41 new Police and Crime Commissioners who are to be our voice on local policing. The Commissioners will replace the unelected police authorities.
London is the exception only because the Mayor of London is also the Police Commissioner. Those elected will take office on 22nd November and be responsible for setting priorities for local policing and the budget with which to do this. The Commissioner is not responsible for operational matters, which remain the Chief Constable’s responsibility, but the Commissioner can hire or fire him or her.
This change has been described as the most significant one in policing in living memory. It is intended to make policing more accountable to the public. The new Commissioners will take office at a challenging time. Police budgets are being cut by 20% between now and 2015. The Government is pressing for a reduction in the number of police officers in back office jobs, to move them onto the streets. Popular opinion favours more ‘bobbies on the beat’ but human rights legislation makes careful recording of arrests and other procedures essential.
Crime rates have been falling in recent years but crime has also been becoming more sophisticated and detection rates remain poor. Overall only 27.8% of crimes are cleared up and detection rates for burglary (12.7%) and vehicle crime (10.6%), crimes that affect ordinary folk, are far too low. More sensitive is the 29.7% clear up rate for sex attacks. The Commissioners elected in November have to face re-election in 2016 and such statistics in specific localities will inevitably influence the way many vote. The relatively new tool of crime mapping is available to help voters to find out about crime in their immediate locality. (Go to on the internet and enter your own street address to discover the number and types of crime within 1 mile of your home.)
Some have expressed concern about what they see as the politicisation of the police. The Government hoped that more genuine independents would stand but a candidate’s £5000 deposit and the campaign cost discouraged some and played into the hands of the political parties. Some of the candidates are former Ministers, like John Prescott, Alun Michael, Vera Baird QC and Tony Lloyd and they will be challenged by members of the other parties. Whether or not this becomes the norm is up to the voters.
What does matter is that most people take note of this development and find out who their local candidates are and what they say they will do if elected on 15th November. Turn out in local elections is usually low and holding this one in November when it becomes dark early, will not help but if the Commissioners are to be our voice the least we can do is choose who speaks for us.