Tuesday 27 July 2010

Electing the police

Police Authorities are not exactly the most transparent of organisations. A large part of the membership consists of councillors appointed by their own local authorities, but the remaining members are appointed by means which are something of a mystery to most.

The idea that there should be more openness and accountability, which is what lies behind the government's proposals for elected commissioners is one which I think has a lot of merit. But agreeing with the principle is not the same as agreeing with the proposal.

Electing a single Police Commissioner for each force will, I think, inevitably politicise policing, and it will put all the power into the hands of one individual on a winner takes all basis. Directly electing a representative police authority, on the other hand, would create a body which would still have party political representation on it, but would also represent a wider spectrum of opinion in the area covered.

And my first reaction to the idea that any increase in the police precept would have to go to a local referendum is that it sounds to me like a recipe for an annual referendum on the police budget. Some might argue that to be a good thing; but why single out the police? Holding an annual referendum on the level of one form of taxation is a genie which I suspect they'd regret releasing from the bottle.

The Labour response to the proposal seems to centre around the idea that we shouldn't hold an election because the wrong people might win it. Whilst Gordon Brown might be wishing he'd thought of that one earlier, I really don't think that stands up as a reason for opposing what is being proposed.

This is, however, a proposal where the 'Welsh way' might well be different. We've called for devolution of policing before, and that would give us an opportunity here in Wales to consider an alternative approach.


Plaid Panteg said...

I blogged about this a while back here - http://plaidpanteg.blogspot.com/2010/04/camerons-localism-is-sham-with.html

But to add to this, the proof is in the pudding. Either these elected police chiefs wont have the power to do anything meaningfully different, or if they do, there will be massive overhaul to a reactionary agenda of the loudest voices.

Take bobbies on the beat. There is little empirical evidence that this reduces crime - but it is the number priority of the public. An elected police chief would have to pander to those who vote in such elections (I cannot foresee a high turnout).

Myself, like 99% of the public, are not experts in crime prevention. You would get the Dunning-Kruger effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect), whereby policing would be decided by those with the loudest voices, not the best ideas.

Spirit of BME said...

May I thank Plaid Panteg for introducing me to the Dunning-Kruger effect - brilliant. I think Plaids AM`s/Leadership, would be a case study in themselves.
On local control of policing - nice idea but Little Tessy Nasty-May left out some details like-
1. Will the new Commissioner have to swear alligence to the English Crown?- we know from political experience that elected members to Cardiff or London when they do ,you lose all control over them.So, only monarchits need apply - that reduces the gene pool.
2. They will have to sign the Official Secrets Act which is a superb piece of legislative control. Negligence and mismanagement can be covered by this Act.
The EU have always complained that the Monarchist Legal and policing is political as chief officers sit in Cabinet and the new Supreme Court relocation is just a token - so no change there.

John Dixon said...


Yes, the Dunning-Kruger effect was a new one on me as well (thank you Marcus). But I have no comment to make on your suggested application.

Plaid Panteg said...

To be fair, I got it from one of my favourite bloggers (I am quite sure John would be a fan too), Chris Dillow.


Cibwr said...

I am not a fan of single purpose elected authorities, neither am I a fan of one person holding all the power. Plus the idea of a referendum every time you increase the council tax precept is mind bogglingly stupid - and expensive. No I'd rather a single Welsh police service and local police committees on every local council (with 1/3 co-opted members to bring wider expertise) . Policing would be a devolves subject, Local police committees would determin spending within their areas and local priorites. Overall policy would be set by the Welsh Government and overseen by a single Welsh police commissioner.

If we have elected single purpose police commissioners, why not do the same with education, or social services etc, then we can abolish local government and just be ruled by single issue policy Tzars?

Cibwr said...

I am generally against the idea of electing officials with a single purpose/function, I am even more against power being in one pair of hands.

Electing police commissioners commissioners would completely politicise the running of police services. Referenda every time the council tax precept is raised is a recipe for gridlock and extra expense. I can see no real benefits to the system.

I would rather devolve policing to the National Assembly who would set up a single all Wales police service, provide the bulk of funding and strategic direction under a police commissioner and board responsible to the Welsh minister for home affairs. Locally there would be police committees on each unitary authority, with 1/3 co-opted expert members, who would decide local policing priorities and provide some extra funding. Hopefully this will provide a more joined up approach to policing and give genuine accountability.

If we are going to have single purpose authorities with all the power invested in one person, why not have elected education commissioners, or social service, or housing, or environmental services? Tell you what why not just abolish local government as we know it and just have locally elected Tzars, who might form a committee to discuss common issues, and then referenda on each of their proposed budgets and taxes?

John Dixon said...


I think what we really need is a thorough review of how Wales is governed, with some serious discussion of what should be run nationally and what should be run locally; what we mean by local; and to what extent 'local' government should have to abide by 'national' targets. Without that, any changes are piecemeal.

If we're going to have piecemeal changes - and I don't see either the UK Government or the Welsh Government rushing into the sort of overall review which Plaid proposed in our 2007 manifesto - then I'd prefer elected police authorities to elected police commissioners.

I think the UK Government is right to identify the lack of transparency and democracy in the way policing is managed - they've just come up with the wrong solution.