Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are here to stay. The new Prime Minister Theresa May was responsible for their introduction and views them as an important part of her legacy as Home Secretary. The Labour Party has now said that it supports them. Even if any new government did want to change the model, the next wave of PCCs will be elected on the
day that has been set by Parliament for the next General Election in May 2020. Even critics of PCCs recognise that the big question is how to improve the model rather than go back to the pre-2012 position.
One important reason for the consolidation of the PCC model is that the sky has not fallen in. There is no evidence that PCCs are systematically politicising policing’, which was the great fear prior to their introduction. However, I want to argue not just that PCCs have done no harm’, but rather that they have been a quiet success story. First, they have considerably strengthened the accountability of the police service to the public. It is my view that the old police authorities lacked the
focus and legitimacy to hold chief officers’ feet to the fire’. Although there is no clear way of measuring the distribution of power in the police service, it is clear to me that the introduction of a new big beast’ into the local policing jungle has made chief constables much more accountable than they once were.
Second, they have increased public engagement. It was said at the time of the old police authorities that one received as little as a letter a week from members of the public. Any PCC will tell you that their correspondence is of a different order of magnitude. As a number of the case studies in our recent briefing on PCCs and innovation show, having a single point of contact and a directly elected politician with a powerful public voice has increased public participation in policing debates that used to happen behind closed doors.
Third, PCCs have unlocked innovation in policing policy. Having a full time public official focused on public safety, armed with commissioning budgets and considerable soft power’, has led to new ways of doing things. It is this topic which is explored in more detail in our briefing, where we seek to understand the scope and drivers of innovation since 2012, as well as the challenges that remain.
And PCCs do face considerable challenges. Demand on the police has changed considerably since the PCC model was developed, with a fall in traditional volume crime and the rise in reported high harm’ offences, often committed in private spaces and increasingly enabled via the internet. This requires a major re-think about policing priorities and operating models. Moreover, the increased complexity of police work means there is a pressing need for connectivity between the police locally and other public services and between police forces as a network to deal with serious crime and deliver specialist capabilities. That will require further changes to both local and national governance, as well as new models of delivery. We hope that the discussion in our short briefing will help illuminate some of the ways in which these challenges might be met.
Read the Police Foundation’s briefing Reducing crime through innovation: the role of PCCs.