In 2012 the first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were elected in England and Wales. Designed to replace the existing police authorities which some had come to see as unaccountable to the public, the PCCs were supposed to hold their chief constables to account as well as manage their police forces’ budgets and set the amount of money to be obtained from Council Tax (the so-called police precept).
If this comes as news to you, you are far from alone. The electoral commission wrote a damning report entitled “How Not to Run an Election” which showed that only 11% of people could name their PCC, less even than the 15% who turned out to vote.
The first of a long run of poor decisions was to hold the elections in November when most people prefer to cocoon themselves indoors, Netflix and chill-ing the winter nights away. More critically the report found that people didn’t even know who was standing, if they knew there was an election at all. This was attributed largely to the government’s refusal to send out candidate profiles in a freepost booklet, or make provision for party political broadcasts on local TV and radio stations.
Once the elections were over however, the farce had only just begun. Perhaps somewhat over-eager to prove the value of their salaries (ranging from £65,000 to £100,000) a number of somewhat eccentric platforms were brought forward. Take for example Kent’s Ann Barnes who hit upon the novel idea of appointing a Youth Police and Crime Commissioner to act as a link between young people and the police. Unfortunately for all involved the person appointed to the role, 17-year old Paris Brown, had a twitter account which was peppered with derogatory remarks about “pikeys” and “fags” and she promptly resigned six days later. Undeterred, Barnes re-advertised the role and handed it to Kerry Boyd, only to have her withdraw from her public duties when questions were raised about the nature of her relationship with a married ex-councillor who acted as one of her referees for the job.
Incidentally, Ann Barnes was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary call Meet the Police Commissioner and we need you to go take a couple of minutes to watch the clip below and when you have finished pissing yourself laughing, you can change your trousers and come back and read the rest of the article.
There’s so much going on in those two minutes this article could probably just be filled with a take-down of that video. If anyone knows where we can find the full episode, please God let us know.
Whilst we’re on the subject of speaking before thinking, Sussex PCC Katy Bourne publicly suggested the cyclists should wear some kind of identification to help detect those who cause accidents, though as a follow-up interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker showed, she had very little grasp on what form this identification should take, or whether cyclists were even causing accidents in any case, citing the high number of “incidents” which later turned out to include accidents where cyclists were the victims. Over the county border in Surrey, Kevin Hurley of the self-styled “Zero Tolerance Policing Ex-Chief” party suggested the British Army send Gurkhas to defend the borders from illegal immigrants. Whether the irony of suggesting that units made up of foreign soldiers should be responsible for “defending” the country from immigrants was lost on him, we sadly may never know. Hurley also attracted criticism for his unorthodox view that it was difficult to recruit black police officers because they came from countries where the police were synonymous with working for dictatorships. We suppose that his dismissal of criticism of the way the police handled Stephen Lawrence’s murder as “post-colonial guilt” had no connection whatsoever to the difficulty in recruiting black police officers.
This list of misdemeanours and incompetence just goes on and on. Norfolk PCC Stephen Bett learned the hard way that the cost of travelling to work is not an expense, Lancashire PCC Clive Grunshaw can’t even be trusted to check the right box on his mileage form and Hertfordshire PCC David Lloyd should probably have foreseen that claiming reimbursement to attend a remembrance service would go down like a lead balloon, especially given that he kept his job as a councillor on top of his generous PCC salary. (Never one to miss out on an opportunity to bring in some extra cash, Lloyd also suggested corporate sponsorship to fund policing and charging offenders for staying in cells.)
But if not money for yourself, how about using the role as PCC to get some extra cash for your friends? Bill Longmore hired his campaign manager as West Mercia’s deputy PCC, Adam Simmonds hired his campaign manager as one of Northampton’s FOUR assistant commissioners, each on £65,000 per year and David Lloyd hired his friend as Hertfordshire’s deputy PCC after the guy failed to get the communications manager job. And let’s be clear, in most cases by “hired” we mean “appointed without advertising the job or interviewing for it.” At least Martyn Underhill had the good grace to require his deputy to work for free until he stands for re-election in Dorset next year.
Despite these generous staffing costs at a time of cutbacks to frontline policing, you should probably do your best to keep up the morale of your police force. Or, if you’re Humberside PCC Matthew Grove, just don’t bother and threaten legal action against police officers who flag up the effects of these cuts. In particular, you could falsely claim that officers were breaking the Official Secrets Act by revealing that the number of officers on night duty fell below the minimum required.
Just look back at the errant behaviour going on here. Cooking the books, cronyism, even police intimidation, it reads like the charge sheet of a small-time Mafia boss, not the CVs of elected representatives in charge of policing.
It’s almost as if Carry On Policing was being done as a sort of real-world performance art, methodically trolling the nation with relentless blunders and finally giving local newspaper journalists something of note to write about other than made up creatures and misplaced mail.
Avon and Somerset’s Sue Mountstevens made the decision on her second day in office to advertise for a new chief constable, a move which did little to encourage the serving chief constable to re-apply for his job. The eventual appointee, Nick Gargan, was charged with gross misconduct a year later and while he was found innocent of those charges he was found guilty of eight counts of misconduct of the regular, non-gross variety.
Sir Graham Bright, responsible for the below Brasseye-esque interview on video censorship whilst an MP, pulled out of a public meeting in Cambridgeshire for a third time because it was due to finish too late in the evening and Devon and Cornwall’s Tony Hogg went on holiday to Canada during a public meeting to discuss his own planned increase in council tax. Which if nothing else, presumably did little to promote the tourism industry in Devon and Cornwall.
In an altogether nastier turn of events, Gwent PCC Ian Johnston forced his chief constable out of her job by threatening to “humiliate” her if she didn’t stand down.
The simplest solutions are laid out there in that initial electoral commission report. Make sure people know who they’re voting for and what job they’re electing them to do. With such huge constituencies – almost 11,000 km2 in the case of Dyfed-Powys – mass communication is the only way to achieve this and to ensure a level playing field at least one rundown of the candidates should be funded by the central government. The elections have at least been set back to their traditional May slot for next year, and despite the evident flaws in the fundamental idea of PCCs, expect those elections to go ahead. Far from backing down from this idea, there is movement to add the fire services to the PCC remit as well.
If that seems too much like ending on a negative note, it’s worth seeking out the exception that proves the rule, the Commissioner with an ounce of common sense. Tony Lloyd, soon to have his post merged with the Greater Manchester Mayor’s job, suggested that PCCs should be recalled in the case of an abuse of powers and Durham’s Ron Hogg went against the political grain to suggest a sensible program to get drug addicts help to quit rather than criminalising them.
But perhaps the wisest of them all was the late Bob Jones, formerly Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, who after a year in the job decided that the position should be scrapped altogether.