Police and crime commissioners: teething problems
Sir Hugh Orde, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), described the Coalition Governmentâ€™s decision to introduce directly elected commissioners as â€śthe biggest changes to our model of policing since 1829â€ť. From 15 November onwards, the new PCCs will hire and fire police chief constables (who continue to manage operations day to day); set the police budget and the police precept; write their areaâ€™s policing plan and commission a range of crime related services, such as victim support.
Last year, we raised concerns that these elections might be marred by low turnout, a concern recently reiterated by the Electoral Reform Society which recently predicted a voter turnout of 18.5%.
The most obvious problem was always going to be the electionâ€™s timing â€“ taking place on a winterâ€™s day when no other elections are taking place. But we also felt that the nature of the post and candidate selection processes would make it tricky to attract candidates who would excite the electorate. We recommended a range of steps government and the parties could take to raise quality and diversity. Some of these recommendations were partially adopted. For example, the Conservative Party held a number of open primary elections for their party candidates, giving party members and the wider public more of a say â€“ and raising awareness of elections in the process.
However, many observers remain concerned about the profile, diversity and quality of candidates â€“ perhaps unsurprising given the slowness of party leaders to call for the best and brightest, and the reluctance of the parties to look beyond the usual suspects identified by traditional party selection processes. In hindsight, the decision to bar those with even childhood misdemeanours from standing also looks like it has unnecessarily shrunk the pool of candidates.
The promised glut of non-party-political commissioners is also unlikely to materialize. Many independents have already been deterred by the expense of running campaigns without any government funding, and those who remain seem likely to lose out against party machines far better equipped to engage voters across what is are exceptionally large geographical areas.
Low turnout can throw up surprising results â€“ and some independents may win through. But the risk is clearly that too many areas end up with both low turnout and low calibre PCCs. The Government is finally funding (and airing) local public service broadcasts highlighting the fact elections are taking place. And the BBC also seems committed to the cause of capturing the publicâ€™s imagination, having published dedicated web pages for each police force area where an election is taking place. However, many of the signs point to the possibility that these activities might be too little, and too late.
Gash, T. and Paun, A., Who Chose the Sheriff: FindingÂ quality candidates for police and crime commissioner elections
Paun, A. and Williams, R., Party People: How do â€“ and how should â€“ British political parties select their parliamentary candidates
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â