Dubious Tory Police Policy

I started this blog intending to speak about Crime Hot-Spot maps and the fact that they’ve been about for ages, just not on the internet. However, it’s so boring, that I keep finding myself coming back to some of the unanswered questions about elected Commissioners.
The idea of Elected Police Commissioners came from America, and was imported by the Tories on the basis that if America does it, it must be good. In fact, the American system of policing is extremely politicised. To have a career in the police it is necessary for the ambitious officer to attach herself to a politician of one of the two main parties, then hope that the politician does well. That’s their system.
In this country the police are independent of politics. This dates back to birth of the Met under Robert Peel. In the period following the terror of the French Revolution, public hostility to the idea of uniformed officers of the state roaming the streets and “protecting” us, was frightening, so it was necessary to have robust guarantees of independence from the government.
Politicians cannot order the police to do jobs for them or to arrest an individual. Politicians have no power over the day to day “operational independence” of any British police force. However, by creating directly elected Police Commissioners the candidates will be dependent on political parties, because the party machine is what will get them elected.
Currently each police force is governed by a tripartite system, of The Home Secretary, the police Chief Officer, and the local Police Authority (a body made of Councillors of differing parties and some civilians). Each of these three bodies has equal powers.
The Police Authority is the one that will be abolished and replaced by the Elected Commissioner. Police Officers are banned from standing for election, so it will be politicians who take the slots. The Elected Commissioner, as a member of the governing political party could be in cahoots with the Home Secretary to outvote the Chief Officer. Therefore, police independence has ended and the political party has control over the police.
So the question is why the Tories would want to have control of police forces? When Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London, boasted that they now have control over the Met, Sir Paul Stevenson, the Met Commissioner was furious. It wasn’t at all clear what they wanted this new found power for. They have precious little policy except to gain more political power. It does seem that they want power for the sake of power, but don’t actually know what to do with it once they have it.
The current Police Authority budget covers the costs of the sandwiches at meetings and a member of staff to take minutes. The Tories say that having an elected Police Commissioner would create accountability; a public face of the police. Perhaps it would. But at a cost of £200 million, during a time of austerity, it’s an expensive piece of reassurance.

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