Police and Crime Commissioners: V4CE Review

By Saqib Deshmukh, Development Officer for V4CE

What have the Police and Crime Commissioners done on their watch over the first year in post and what does it mean for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugees (BAMER) communities and the sector, particularly outside London?

Today is the first anniversary of the election of the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). 41 PCCs were elected outside London with a very low turn out of 15 per cent - a historical low in terms of elections. In London the current Mayor also serves as the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Headline figures reveal that 31.7 per cent of elected PCCs were previously involved with the police authority (12 members and one staff member). Eight PCCs are former Police Officers (19.5 per cent). The gender gap of elected PCCs identifies 36 are men and six are women.

Revealing statistics also show that 19 PCCs (46 per cent) are current or former councillors (PCCs may of course retain their council seats) and six are former MPs (15 per cent).

Our perspective as a national member-led BME infrastructure organisation is around in particular BME VCS groups understanding of the PCC arrangements including the police panels and also exposing the way that partnerships with the police operate. We feel that the new arrangements still don’t have sufficient transparency and that there is not enough accountability built in. There are still questions to be asked about the commissioning of VCS groups as well as social enterprises and what is in place for 2014. Are BME groups aware of the VCSE offer and the Safer Future Communities (SFC) agenda? We are also concerned from the analysis done by SFC that 31 of the 39 Police and Crime Plans produced so far failed to mention the needs of BME communities in any way!

What have they done to tackle issues of inequality in policing and disproportionality in terms of stop and search police harassment and brutality of Black, minority ethnic and refugee communities? Again from the Safer Future Communities research issue is only mentioned by two PCCS under social cohesion and respecting diversity. Have they engaged and listened to families who have experienced a death in custody or after contact with the police? What has been their role in overseeing the police operational practice in Child Sexual Exploitation Operations such as Operation Bullfinch and Ribbon in Thames Valley and anti-crime Operations such as the one in Leicester (Operation Tiger) after the tragic deaths that hit the city in the last few months?

We need to be asking questions about comparison with the previous Police Authority arrangements how this has democratised the police service and encouraged local debates about policing. Has there been a difference between PCC arrangements and the previous Police Authority; One, is it merely a case of just moving the furniture and a rebadging exercise? How successful are the Police and Crime Panels and scrutiny arrangements? This only scrutinises the PCC not the Chief Constable and they hold considerable power to set budgets/appoint chief constables etc. The PCC within each force area has a statutory duty and electoral mandate to hold the police to account on behalf of the public. But given the low turn out do they have a mandate in the eyes of the public?

The role is strategic not operational but for the majority of people the latter is most important so there are question marks about their overall value. There are also potential conflicts of interests even though they agree to an oath of impartiality, as Police and Crime Commissioners can still stand as local Councillors. I can also understand the argument that it’s been the first year and it will take them and the new panel’s time for this to bed down however this is all taxpayers money and they need to show not only value for money but also how to handle the challenges that they have been facing.

What does all this mean from an ideological point of view? Having a large number of ex-police officers & police authority members in positions of power may be a useful bulwark at a time where the police nationally (Plebgate etc) are under attack. In this context however have they been able to hold their Chief Constables to account when needed and challenge any corruption and criminal behaviour in the police ranks? This also means standing up to the likes of the Police Federation.

The true litmus test is if you know the name of you own Police and Crime Commissioner. If you do then well done - but a year on the vast majority of the population are clueless to their identity and the new arrangements. But for many Asian, African and African Caribbean people and refugee communities and increasingly for the diverse Muslim communities in the UK issues around policing and accountability are a burning issue. The fact that these new arrangements lack transparency and a way to hold Chief Constables and policing decisions to account directly is deeply worrying for those of us involved on the ground with our communities.

To download the V4CE think piece on Police and Crime Commissioners click here