Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Time for Labour to say they will scrap Police and Crime Commissioners

Over the last few months the position of Police and Crime Commissioner has sunk to a new low. The low turnout for the election in the West Midlands, the refusal of the South Yorkshire PCC to resign over his involvement with the Rotherham scandal (though in that case he should be joined in resigning by a number of South Yorkshire Senior Police Officers) the suspension from the Labour Party of the Bedfordshire PCC, the Norfolk PCC attempting to suspend himself and the walking PR disasters who are the PCC’s in Kent and Surrey. All these are recent examples of why the next Labour Government should make one of their first jobs stating that the post of PCC will cease after they have completed their four year term.

That is not to say we should go back to the way the police was run before, the Police Authority were toothless and though they were made up of elected members they were able to raise the police part of the council tax without any fear of being held responsible for the rise by the public.

This week Labour have announced that they are close to laying out plans for their vision of what will replace the role of PCC. Tories not surprisingly are pushing us to declare now what we plan, forgetting that they had plenty of time in opposition to come up with their answers. The trouble was they decided on the role of PCC, they had plenty of time to decide on legislation and implementation but still came up with (supported by the Lib Dems) a plan that allows a PCC to stay in post even if found guilty for a criminal offence (as long as the crime does not lead to a 2 year jail sentence) they also failed to place in any form of recall or even to give the Home Secretary (or the local Police panel) the power to get rid of poorly preforming PCC’s. Then again they have failed to implement a plan for recall of MP’s though they had promised to do so. This week The Home Secretary said there should be a way that they could recall PCC’s – well pity she never thought of that when they set up the post.

The local political gossip column has reported a number of my tweets and posts about the role of the PCC and attempted to use those posts to cause friction with my fellow ward Councillor Tracy Grant (a civilian employed by the police). Stating that at least the Tory PCC, Mr Passmore had saved the Suffolk Control room. As I was a member of the scrutiny committee who listened to Mr Passmore who when speaking to us made it quite clear that at the time he thought the control room merger was in the best interests of Suffolk, I do not take what he says that seriously because it seemed to me that the closure was a ‘done’ deal and that only the threat of an orchestrated campaign by the EASDT pushed him into a sudden change of plan (where he had no Plan B.)

What Ipswich Spy seems to fail to report is other than the control room, most of the police force in both Suffolk and Norfolk has already merged, just a few days after attacking me ‘Spy’ ran another story about Suffolk Police in which they themselves quoted, Chief Inspector Chris Spinks, head of the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing Unit. Just another example how much of the two police forces are already merged. Some could say that the only parts of the police that both Suffolk and Norfolk still have that are not merged are the posts of PCC, Chief Constable and the two control centres!

Now I am not advocating the merger of the control rooms, as someone who ran the Operations Room in Sangin in 2009 I do have some understanding of how a control room works. In Sangin I ran a control room that controlled over 1000 troops but underneath us we had 5 other control rooms including 2 in the same location as us. We then reported up to a further control/Operations Room in Lashkagar who then reported up to three separate Operation Rooms in Kadahar, Kabul and West London! I could envisage a full merger of Suffolk and Norfolk police still needing more than one control room – maybe one in Ipswich, one in Waveney covering both Lowestoft and Yarmouth and then a further one in Kings Lynn all reporting into a joint control room in Norwich.

I do wish that the last Labour Government had implemented the plan that Ronnie Flanagan devised which would have seen forces merger, it may have been the opposition of the police themselves that had stopped Labour from pressing forward. But it seems even the police have now changed their thoughts - The number of constabularies in England and Wales should be cut to save money that was the view of Police Superintendents' Association president Irene Curtis who went onto say there were "too many chief constables and too many police and crime commissioners". And that the 43-force structure wasted millions of pounds and had not been reformed for 40 years.

But one starting figure last week did indicate how badly we were being served by the Suffolk Police, as we have many of the police departments already merged you would have thought Suffolk and Norfolk residents would have been treated equally but in Norfolk police attended 98% of recorded crimes in the year to November 2013 but Suffolk police attended just 66% - below the average of 79% across England and Wales. So we are not being treated the same even though a number of our senior officers are running joint Suffolk and Norfolk teams.

Mr Passmore has done some good work with the police as part of his role as PCC and has not seen to have made the same mistakes as some of the other PCC’s but he has made some serious errors. One was remaining as a District Councilor in Mid Suffolk, this error was highlighted this week when he was critical of Suffolk Police for not commenting on a licensing proposal that Mid Suffolk had asked the police to comment on. Now I understand where Mr Passmore is coming from, I have been critical of the police at both planning and licensing committees for not submitting anything when asked for their thoughts but the difference is I am not the PCC. What will happen the next time Mid Suffolk ask the police to submit evidence on a licensing application- it would seem to be that Mr Passmore publically being critical of the police this time will put undue pressure on them to say something next time.

I will iterate my view that the next Labour Government should get rid of the post of PCC, but replace it with something better and more accountable than the previous Police Authority. I would go further and state that forces should be merged. The situation in Suffolk and Norfolk already highlights that in most cases the forces are already working as one even if one county seems to be getting a better service. NHS organisation never seems to get a good press but having a health authority that controlled the health service in both Lowestoft and Yarmouth was one good idea. A merger of Suffolk, Norfolk and maybe Cambridgeshire would not have to cause control rooms to close- but it would make more sense (in solving crime and serving the public) if a control room in Cambridge also looked after Haverhill and Newmarket.

Then we have cost – Police cost should be removed from Council tax – it should be from direct government with a set figure worked out by the Home office. Not sure many MPs would be happy about that!

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