Editorial: Police commissioners are worth voting for

Flawed or not, this week's ballot will give the public a say for the first time

Share
Related Topics

For all the apathy that has attended proceedings so far, the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners tomorrow is a far-reaching change to British law enforcement. It is also, despite significant flaws, a welcome one. All who have the opportunity to vote should do so.

Opponents of the scheme – of whom there are many – have no shortage of ammunition. Far from attracting the charismatic, independent, high-calibre figures that the plan's proponents hoped, the 192 candidates are a largely uninspiring bunch, counting a drearily high proportion of politicians and local officials among their number. The exclusion of several promising contenders because of minor brushes with the law in their youths, and the controversy over the inclusion of former Tory minister Michael Mates (now under investigation for electoral fraud) have not helped. Nor, for some, has the involvement of John Prescott.

Part of the blame must lie with the Prime Minister et al. In the face of public ennui, the Coalition's cheerleading of what began as a flagship initiative has been inexcusably lacklustre. Indeed, as the ballot has neared it has become almost non-existent. Meanwhile, between the costly deposit required to enter the race, and the Government's refusal to help pay for candidates' mailshots, the number of independents has dwindled. The majority of the names on the ballot papers are, therefore, backed by one of the three main political parties. Hardly much of an enticement for the increasingly mistrustful electorate, then. And not the shake-up of entrenched party politics that the plan's supporters claimed either.

All such criticisms are valid. As are concerns that PCCs' regions may be so large and their remits so ill-defined as to encourage meddling mission creep. But even so long a list of shortcomings does not add up to the compelling case against that naysayers (often with vested interests) aver.

At its most basic, the issue is one of accountability. As an institution of state power, the police service is almost unique in its opacity. The 41 regional forces are overseen by appointed police authorities (which elected PCCs will replace) with neither a formal link to the areas for which they are responsible nor any requirement that they either solicit citizens' views or explain decisions to them. Meanwhile, internal procedures, from senior pay settlements to misconduct hearings, are far from transparent. Altogether the system is antiquated, unresponsive, and appallingly open to abuse.

Individually, the vast majority of police men and women do a fantastic (and fantastically difficult) job. But a series of scandals – such as recent revelations over the Hillsborough disaster – have raised questions about the ability of the police to police themselves. Now, with funding set to fall by 20 per cent, and unpopular reforms under way, the mood on the front line is darkening. While elected PCCs are no sure solution to such challenges, nor need they be the costly figurehead of caricature. The post has real power: to divvy up budgets, to set priorities, even to hire and fire the Chief Constable. At their best, then, a PCC can be both much-needed link to the local community and high-profile champion for the force.

Turnout for tomorrow's elections is expected to be woeful, perhaps less than 20 per cent. But the matter does not end here. Only a handful of the first batch of PCCs need show some initiative to give other candidates – and local voters – a glimpse of the possibilities. This week's ballot is the beginning of a fundamental change in British policing. All who can should surely participate.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit