Getting to grips with the PCC and Chief Constable relationship

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Getting to grips with the PCC and Chief Constable relationship

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) locally elected officials in charge of local police forcesÛÓhave recently been accused of having a “chilling effect” on the recruitment of chief constables. Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, claimed that there had been few applicants to chief constable positions since PCCs were introduced in 2012, which was “not in the public interest”. But recruitment is far from the only issue that prospective PCCs will have to deal with as we approach the second round of elections on 5th May 2016.

PCCs also have powers to sack chief constables, as well as powers to set the strategy and budget for their local police forces. At the reform’s core was the creation of a one-on-one relationship between a PCC and chief constable, marking a radical departure from pre-existing police authorities (17 member panels made up of locally elected councilors). PCCs represent a single publically visible figure at the top of local police forces who offer strong leadership and a clear line of accountability. This single model of accountability is unique, although bears some resemblance to some US models of police governance.

But how has this one-on-one relationship played out, and what lessons have been learned from the first term?

With a new set of PCCs soon coming into office, timely new research presents lessons for PCCs and chief constables to avoid relationship breakdown.

In a recent article published in Policing, we shed some light on managing PCC and chief constable relationships, drawing on findings from two recent pieces of research. The first was a doctoral thesis examining the introduction of PCCs through interviews with PCCs and other local stakeholders, while the secondÛÓa Fullbright scholarshipÛÓentailed interviews with mayors and police chiefs in the U.S. to learn lessons on one-person political oversight in policing.

We advise four interventions for PCCs and chief constables to make their professional relationship lasting and effective.

  1. Agree mutual goals and values from the start

If a PCC and chief constable don’t sit down and agree mutual goals and values from the start, they risk a critical fall out sooner rather than later. Twenty percent of respondents in the U.S. study admitted their relationship failed because a shared philosophy and strategy were not in place from the start.

  1. Set out clear lines of authority and communication

If both parties don’t lay out clear lines of authority and communication, animosity is likely to grow. This is not straightforward and inevitably there will be times when the both roles overlap. It is essential that both PCCs and chief constables understand where the boundaries lie. This can be achieved not only through continuous mutual dialogue, but also through reviewing existing formal policies, such as who has responsibility for non-warranted staff (e.g. communications or HR teams).

  1. Ensure space for mutual learning

A wise PCC educates the chief constable in their world of politics, and it is incumbent on the chief constable to provide the PCC with all the knowledge they can on the science of policing. Both PCCs and chief constables have unique insights and sharing this information will be beneficial to both parties. This can occur informally between PCCs and chief constables, but there is also scope for more formal information exchange that could be developed collaboratively by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

  1. Make use of middle agents

In contrast to one four year term of PCCs, the U.S. brings over a century of experience of single politicians overseeing police departments. Our American cousins employ various forms of middle agent’ as go-betweens to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or conflict. In England and Wales, middle agents might be a Deputy PCC versed in policing and not just politics, or a PCC’s CEO who handles the day-to-day relationship with the chief constable. This may help the PCC to stay away from the detail and retain oversight of the strategy. This way the fear of PCCs impinging on a chief’s operational independence is abated.

PCCs occupy a unique role that involves working collaboratively with their chief constable to deliver a Police and Crime Plan, all the while holding the chief constable to account. Striking the balance between working collaboratively and ensuring scrutiny can be challenging for two individuals, often with different backgrounds and personalities. However, conflict can be managed if both set goals and lines of responsibility from the start, and then educate, communicate, and use middle agents throughout. PCCs and chief constables need to make this relationship work if the policy is to achieve effective, efficient and accountable policing.

The full article(Davies, M. & Johnson, J. (2016), Navigating the One-on-One Model of Accountability: Lessons for Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables through the Lens of PrincipalAgent Theory’, Policing, doi: 10.1093/police/paw004) can be accessed in the February 2016 issue of Policing.

Our Deputy Director, Gavin Hales exploredwhether the current model for chief officer appointments offers a sufficiently strategic and resilient model of leadership management in his blog‘A healthy lead – chief officer appointments need questioning’.