Alex Marshall - PCCs, 10 July 2012
Just over a month has passed since the ACPO Leading Change in Policing Conference and I’ve now had the chance to reflect a little on some of the outcomes and themes that resulted. One thing is for certain: in policing, there’s a lot going on. I had the pleasure of chairing the second day of our conference which was entirely dedicated to exploring the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and the challenges (both political and operational) that will face them on the road ahead.
Although at the time of the conference the vast majority of candidates had yet to declare their intentions, we still managed to muster up a crowd of those who are interested in throwing their hats in the ring. I hope they found it as useful as we all did. The opportunity to discuss the important issues, in what is a shifting landscape, with those we may be working alongside in future was immensely valuable. There were plenty of questions on both sides. It was useful for chiefs to hear where prospective candidates thought the role was headed and what their remit would be in practice. I also imagine it was useful for candidates to hear about the latest operational thinking coming out of the service in an open and intellectually stimulating environment.
We began the day by looking at the ‘rules of engagement’ between a chief constable and a declared (and undeclared) candidate, led by a charismatic Police Area Returning Officer (David Cook). These are the individuals who are going to have to make sure everyone plays by the rules in the run up to a PCC election - no easy task. Particularly given that, despite our in depth discussion, that there was little agreement on what those ‘rules’ will actually be in practice. I know a few colleagues made light of that fact that we may be guilty of breaching section 1001 just by discussing the elections. It’s a tricky area to say the least.
It is obviously in the police service’s interest to have as much public engagement in policing as possible, for that is how we secure our legitimacy and is how we remain accountable. However, when it comes to the ballot box the police have to (rightly) stay well clear. There is still a little way to go in clarifying how this will work as it’s new territory for everyone, but it’s fundamentally important we get it right.
Catherine Crawford (now formerly) of the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), was helpful in extrapolating the lessons of London’s experience of direct accountability. But she was keen to explain that the parallels only went so far, a point that the Commissioner himself made pretty clear.
PCCs will have an incredible amount of information to take in and a crammed in-tray when they take office. ACO Nigel Brook noted the urgency of decisions required around the Police precept and budgets as part of the Police and Crime Plan. They have to be finalised by February, (the bulk of which will have been done by late autumn) therefore if a PCC is sworn in and wants to rip up the budget plan everyone will have their work cut out to lay down a new one.
The breakout sessions centred around the new world under PCCs and DCC Rob Beckley took a thought provoking look at what ‘commissioning’ services actually means. As a service we have often not focused on things in policing that are not intrinsically to do with "bobbies on the beat" or crime fighting. The business and organisational skills that a PCC may bring could make a contribution here.
Our ‘question time’ debates took both an internal and external perspective on what PCCs can offer. There is clearly still little agreement on what and who makes the best candidates, and perhaps nor should there be. Policing isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ profession and PCCs may reflect the public we police. We heard from two professional politicians (a councillor and ex-minister) and a former policeman as prospective candidates. All took very different views on what they would bring to the role.
What I, and I hope others, took away from the event was the importance of dialogue at both local and national level. These forums are more than just talking shops, they provide a vital space to share knowledge and build understanding as we prepare for such a historic and seismic change. As we heard at ACPO Conference, we still need the nuts and bolts attached to the Strategic Policing Requirement, and it will be for us collectively to remind PCCs that we have national obligations to meet on behalf of the public, that go beyond the local issues they may focus their campaigns on.