David Sidwick: Police and Crime Commissioners should not be too cosy with Chief Constables

2 Mar

David Sidwick is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.

As we face the May elections, there will be much debate about policing and the role of Police and Crime Commissioners.

The first question is why do we have PCCs in the first place? There has always been a local linkage of governance to a police force. First it was via local watch committees which were dissolved when it was felt these were not transparent enough. Then came police authorities, that whilst more transparent, had weak strategic input and no direct democratic mandate. Finally, Police and Crime Commissioners which can provide both the democratic linkage and the strategic input.

The issue is that there has never been a strong enough case put for the role to the public – and there has never been a strong enough differentiated case for Conservative PCCs and the unique benefits that they bring.

This has allowed a conflation and misunderstanding of the impartiality of the police and the political nature of PCCs. The independence of the police was enshrined both in the actuality of the legislation and in the spirit. PCCs in their oath of service clearly state they will not interfere with the operational effectiveness of the police force.

Conservative PCCs particularly understand the complicated and necessarily distanced relationship with the Chief Constable – it must neither be directive nor too cosy as both have the capability to infringe on operational independence.

Conservative PCCs also understand that they hold the grail in that the police must remain operationally impartial. It was in our DNA when Sir Robert Peel set up the Peelian Principles and it is worth restating Principle 5 – Police seek and preserve public favour, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

So this is the “no fear or favour” that lies at the heart of the operational policing and it absolutely has to be sacrosanct. But let’s be clear; this has to be impartiality to all, including the following – political parties, lobby groups, rich individuals or corporations, and also those groups that may be a public relations minefield – no matter how good the cause. The law applies to all that commit crimes and should be equally applied.

And therein also lies the issue with the suggestion about removing governance completely and letting the police run themselves via the National Police Chiefs Council – leaving aside the fact this removes the local democratic accountability that has been part of our police forces since the years of their inception – it also means that the institution will no longer serve the public, but themselves – having an internal view not accountable to the public is a very dangerous path.

So the concept of operational impartiality for the police remains at the heart of the concept of Conservative PCCs.

In the South West, there has been a deliberate message to the electorate that confuses the operational and strategic to make the case for Independent PCCs. Far more important and relevant for a PCC are the understanding of strategy, the ability to engage, and the right motivation to be an advocate for the public.

The governance therefore relies on the strategic plan (the Police and Crime Plan (PCP)) and less on the much more discussed but less important ability to dismiss the Chief Constable. This should always be the last resort and the true strength lies in the professional relationship founded on mutual respect between the PCC and the Chief Constable. It is not for a PCC to order about a Chief Constable – that contravenes their operational independence. It is however also vital that the Chief Constable should enact operationally the requirements of the PCP. This is the link through the plan to the democratic will of the people. A connection that too often is forgotten and is the most important.

A PCC therefore should have, above all else, an understanding of the strategic process: from communication with the electorate; to an overarching vision; with a clear mission; with objective-bound priorities that can be directly linked to impartial operational effectiveness.

A Conservative PCC understands this. Crunch the numbers and the vast majority of the areas with the lowest crime rates have Conservative PCCs. I would argue that they also show more clearly the rule of law and a strong moral compass at the heart of their plan. This structure is inherent to our party’s vision of aspiration – you can only build strong communities and businesses within a safe framework of law and democracy, where anarchy and mob rule has no place.

There are great examples of this – North Yorkshire and Devon and Cornwall are first and second lowest in the country for the overall crime rate. Those PCCs that put crime prevention / reduction high on their priorities have forces that not surprisingly perform well – it’s worth comparing PCP priorities across the country and looking at the differences. What links all the high performing Conservative PCCs is that direct link from their population to their force, through a PCP focused on preventing crime and anti-social behaviour. Both in the plan itself and commissioning services, Conservatism should be transparent to the voters – that is not incompatible with operational effectiveness in any way.

The operational effectiveness of the Police is sacrosanct to the Conservative Party and protected by legislation. Conservative PCCs understand the relationship between them and the Chief Constable to be professional not cosy. They demonstrate this with their clear understanding and ability to deliver both effective and efficient policing.

We understand strategy, engagement, and delivery. Conservative PCC candidates have a rigorous selection process including a written exam, literally dozens of informal interviews locally, a panel interview with other PCCs and local government leaders and hustings – this means the electorate can be reassured that we have candidates that pass muster. To truly transform police and crime, the party needs to, at all levels – (CCHQ, every MP, local councillor and party activist) strongly support the Conservative PCC candidates to ensure they get elected so that they can make the link between electorate and delivery, so crime and disorder is reduced for the good of us all.

Let’s unleash the true power of having a Conservative PCC.