My police and crime plan has six priorities. ‘Accessibility and Accountability’. It is not necessarily the most important, it just happens to be the first.
My official website www.gloucestershire-pcc.gov.uk defines it as employing the right resources to deal with a matter appropriately and effectively every time – not ‘when it suits’ or ‘when you can be bothered’ but ‘every time’. This, of course, applies to the police but I see myself as no different.
Recently, I inquired of the police about a pilot for a controversial new piece of equipment due to be tested in Gloucester. I don’t want to go into it all again except to say that when the police were unable to give me answers relating to process and legitimacy - in other words, how it might be used, when and on whom - the trial was immediately deferred. This made me a target for a fair amount of vitriol in the conventional media and sparked what has been described as a “Twitter firestorm”.
I can cope with a bit of petty name-calling, even though the twitter limit of 140 characters still gives some people licence to advance opinions they would never say to your face and use language that, on this issue, was in some cases crude and unacceptable. But what it actually revealed was a level of ignorance that still pervades the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner – even among those in public service who, by now, really should know better.
The principal accusation levelled at me was that I was ‘interfering in operational decision making’, yet nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I was fulfilling one of the PCC’s core responsibilities – to ask the questions the public expect me to ask and hold the police to account for their actions. When it was apparent those questions could not be answered, the chief constable intervened, the pilot was suspended and I supported the decision he made and his right to review it when the time is right.
Although the PCC’s first objective is to reduce crime, contrary to what some people think, we do not run the police. Operational decisions are taken by the chief constable and I hold him to account for how the police perform. Apart from that, I write the budget, I produce a general strategy the Constabulary has to adhere to called the police and crime plan, I commission services I believe will help make our communities better places and I speak on behalf of the public. And that’s it.
A final thought.
Deadlines dictate I must write this ahead of the General Election when the truly dreadful attacks of recent weeks catapulted the nation’s security to the top of the agenda. Now it is over, I can say without being accused of trying to influence the result, that I found some of the knee-jerk responses and apparent policy shifts unhelpful.
Put it down to the last minute clamour for votes but, much as I am happy to work with all our MPs, it strengthened my view that party politics has no place in policing – though I guess some might argue that as an Independent, ‘he would say that wouldn’t he!’