Brian Paddick: One person is not enough to oversee the police

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The Independent Online

This week, the Lords will consider the Government's proposals for directly elected crime and police commissioners – one person in each police force area who will set police budgets and priorities, and hire and fire chief constables. Lib Dem peers are threatening to delay the policy, putting down an amendment that will require pilot schemes before full implementation. Former commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, cross-benchers such as Lords Imbert, Condon and Stevens can be expected to speak against the proposals, arguing they will undermine the operational independence of chief constables. As a former senior police officer, I believe opposition to the Government's proposals are right but for the wrong reasons.

The system of policing in this country is based on consent, on the support and co-operation of the public. Its origins are to be found when villagers used to select one of their number to enforce the law on their behalf. The police should be "citizens in uniform", doing what local people would do themselves if only they had the training, the powers and the equipment. Government proposals to reduce Whitehall control and replace it with local democratic accountability are appropriate.

Unfortunately, most police authority members do not have the time or the technical back-up teams to be able effectively to hold the police to account. Policing has become a hugely complex multi-billion-pound operation run by professional police officers who can effectively pull the wool over the eyes of those who are supposed to be holding them to account, should they chose to do so.

So what of the Tory plan for a single democratically elected crime and police commissioner for every police force area? London will not actually have a separately elected crime and police commissioner; it will effectively be the Mayor of London or anyone the Mayor nominates to undertake the role on his behalf. The Tory briefing suggests that democratic accountability is working so well in London and that no separately elected crime and police commissioner is needed.

The question London poses, as far as one democratically elected crime and police commissioner is concerned, is the case of the former commissioner, Sir (now Lord) Ian Blair. According to the official account, the Mayor of London and then chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Boris Johnson, without a vote among police authority members, told Sir Ian he had no confidence in him. He was already effectively acting as a crime and police commissioner. Sir Ian apparently found such a position to be untenable and resigned.

With only one directly elected crime and police commissioner in each force area, we face the prospect of excellent chief officers with years of experience being summarily dismissed because their newly elected boss does not like the cut of their jib.

We should have directly elected police authorities consisting of a panel of commissioners from a range of political parties or of no political party, properly supported by a professional team who can delve into the detail. Directly elected police authorities – not one individual crime and police commissioner – are far more likely to produce the worthy outcomes this Government seeks to achieve in transforming our police.

Brian Paddick is former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police