In 10 days time (15th November) people across the country will have the opportunity to vote for their elected Police and Crime Commissioner. Unfortunately all that you’ve probably heard about this election, if you’ve heard anything at all, is that it’s going to be an unmitigated turnout disaster. ‘We don’t want it, it risks politicising policing’ you may have heard. ‘There’s not enough information available’ is another and, of course, my favourite justification for disengagement ‘a November election? People won’t vote in bad weather.’ You may also have encountered the odd news story including scandals or policy faux pas.
However, as anyone who knows me knows, I’m a great big fan of democratic participation and doing my civic duty. Consequently I’ve decided to take up the seemingly herculean challenge of getting people interested in, and voting in, the West Midlands PCC election. But before I launch into my argument here’s a brief summary of just what a PCC is:
PCC’s are a brand new role. After this election all 41 police forces in England and Wales (excluding London where these powers are already held by the Mayor’s office) will have their very own democratically elected PCC. They will have a series of specific powers, including setting a five year plan for the force, which could result in significant changes to the aims, emphasis and delivery of police services in their individual regions. Essentially the PCC will entirely replace the current system of Local Police Authorities. (For an in depth list of their powers click here )
So as you can see PCCs are kind of important. The primary arguments behind the creation of PCCs is that they will be more democratic, make the police force more accountable to the people it serves, be more visible and offer value for money. However, since none of these arguments won over the population of the fair city of Birmingham to the idea of elected mayors, rather than focus on the buzz words I’m going to give you three clear reasons why voting for your PCC is important; cuts, responsibility and politics.
Cuts. No one likes them, especially when it comes to cuts to the organisation that’s there to protect us but there is just no escaping them. Lump it or, well, lump it, the West Midlands Police Force is going to have to make around £126million in cuts over the next four years. This is a truly vast amount of money and, due to budget cuts already made by beginning to introduce efficiency savings etc the only way it can be realistically achieved is by big changes to how the police force is operating.
Now subtle as it may first appear, many of the candidates actually have quite different approaches to implementing the cuts. Naturally, none of them are talking at length about what services they will reduce and number of staff they will cut loose (hardly a vote winner) but the differences are there to behold. This is only one key issue (in a highly reduced form) so, because I think it may give an unfair impression of the individual candidates’s overall policies, rather than stating which candidate supports what approach I’m leaving it up to you to take 10mins out of your day and find out what the key players are saying. It’s not hard to find out (there’s a list of their websites in a later section of this post) but it is highly important. Some are very vocally against “privatisation” of police force services in all shapes and forms whilst others state they will consider partnering with businesses on a case by case basis. Some think they can find the required cuts through measures such as reducing the cost of procuring equipment. Some argue for the use of the police contact points in public spaces where the public can report crimes whilst others are highly dedicated to keeping police stations open. Others are remarkably quiet on this incredibly important matter. The question is, what do you think is important? Would you prefer fixed police stations with cuts made elsewhere or pop up police stands in public spaces? Do you think partnering with the private and third sector can offer savings to the police force or that the police should remain independent of “privatisation”? Would you consider a raise in the amount of council tax that pays for policing in order to keep more services available or would you rather take the cuts? Cuts are going to happen, by voting you can have a direct say in which approach you would like to see implemented in the West Midlands.
Next is an issue that I am particularly interested in; responsibility. You may of heard the recent case of Ryan Coleman-Farrow, a former Metropolitan Police Detective Constable recently jailed for effectively “binning” rape and sexual assault cases whilst falsifying records including pretending he had submitted evidence for forensic testing that he hadn’t and creating false witness statements. He may have (eventually) been fired and subsequently jailed but what about his supervisors? I personally find it incredible that no one took the time to double check any of his work or find out why so many of these cases had come to such abrupt arrest free ends. A police complaints investigation might not have found any supervisory failings but it seems incredible to me that this went on for nearly three years without anyone having the slightest inkling that something was up. If something like this happens under a PCCs watch we can take the questions straight to, effectively, the top dog and make them account for any systematic failings. And if we don’t like their explanations and response to the issue? Kick them out at the next election.
Finally we have the issue of mixing politics and policing. This seems to be something that’s getting a lot of people’s goat. To many the PCC elections seem like just another way for political parties to manipulate the agenda of what is supposed to be a politically independent organisation. There are fears that we’ll have national party political agendas wreaking havoc with the needs of local communities. Well to you I say this; just vote for an independent then. In the West Midlands there are three independent candidates:
Cath Hannon – a former Detective Superintendent
Mike Rumble – a former police officer
Derek Weebly – Bishop of the New Testement Church of God (Handsworth, Birmingham) and first Afro-Caribbean chair of any police authority in the UK
If the public are as anti-political control of the police as polls and newspaper reports suggest then we can just use that fantastic thing called a democratic election to not vote a representative of a political party in. Certainly, people who are engaged in political parties are more likely to vote than the average citizen of the UK. But they form a teeny tiny percentage of the population. In 2011 across the whole of the UK there were, approximately, just 433,000 people registered as a member of one of the big three parties (Conservative 177,000 – Labour 190,000 – Lib Dem – 66,000 (Source: Estimates based on party reports and House of Commons Library). There are approximately 2.8 million people in just the West Midlands Police Force Area. Even taking into account those ineligible to vote the party faithful are entirely dwarfed by the number of officially unaffiliated citizens. If we don’t want politics and policing to mix we, all of us, need to get up, out and vote on the 15th. The results of elections can’t represent the views of the average citizen unless the vast majority of said citizens vote in them.
This is not, by any means, to say that candidates backed by political parties are inherently bad. In the West Midlands we in fact have four party political candidates running, and some have even pledged to ignore party lines to do what’s best for the region. The party political candidates are:
Bob Jones – Labour
Matt Bennett – Conservative
Ayoub Khan – Liberal Democrat
Bill Etheridge – UKIP
There you have it, three reasons to vote; cuts, responsibility and politics. So please, take some time to flick through the candidate’s websites and get out and vote next week. For all the complaints about lack of information there are some really great websites out there, aside from the candidates’ own campaign pages, that provide greater insight into the on-going discussions on the matter (my personal favourites are Top of the Cops and for straightforward, easy to absorb info on the candidates Choose My PCC ). And as for complaints that it will probably be a bit wet and cold next Thursday so people won’t vote, if you find this thought entering your head just think of this; around the world, even today people are willing to sacrifice their lives for the right to have a say over how their nation is governed. Imagine them simultaneously turning over in their graves and see if you still feel so adverse to popping out of the house for half an hour to tick a couple of boxes. (To find your local polling station see the polling card you should have received in the post or use the search function on your local council’s website)
I know who I’m voting for on Thursday 15th November, do you?