Police & Crime Commissioners the wrong policy, the wrong priority at the wrong time – But policing is so important to our communities that Labour will have to make the best of a bad job
Police forces face a ‘cliff edge’,16,000 police officers are going and personal crime is going up. Yet what is the Prime Minister’s response? To spend £125m of tax payer’s money on police and crime commissioner elections instead.
Labour has consistently opposed these plans as we believe this is the wrong policy, the wrong priority and at the wrong time. If Labour was in power tomorrow we would stop these plans and spend the cash on thousands more police officers instead, and we still believe David Cameron should stop and think again before it is too late.
But if he doesn’t Labour will make the best of a bad job. Policing and the safety of our communities are too important for us to turn our backs until the next General Election when the government is putting so much at risk.
Communities across the country will find it hard to understand why the government believes the priority should be a costly experiment in US style commisioners at a time when they are losing beat officers, detectives, traffic cops and PCSO and while theft and robbery are going up. The £125m David Cameron wants to spend on elections and setting them up could pay for 3,000 new police constables instead.
We also raised concerns about the lack of proper checks and balances on commissioners. In Parliament we argued that 41 individual commissioners, often covering vast areas were not the best way to reflect diverse communities and we remain concerned that too few women or black and minority ethnic candidates are likely to stand.
Holding policing elections in November is just foolish. Turnout will be lower yet the cost will be much higher. And vital legal safeguards and guidance to ensure free and fair elections are not yet in place, leaving electoral returning officers deeply troubled at the practical and democratic challenge they face.
We believe there are cheaper reforms which protect independent policing and give more voice to communities. I have asked Lord Stevens’ Independent Commission on the Future of Policing to look at ways to reform the governance and accountability of the police and we will set out reform plans in our manifesto.
But we won’t be able to change the system until after the next general election – currently planned for the end of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s first term. In the meantime we have to deal with the arrangements the government has put in place. Senior police officers have voiced alarm that extremist or marginal candidates could be elected to these posts, with very serious consequences for policing and communities. I am also deeply worried at the prospect of Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates for police commissioners being little more than cheerleaders for their own government’s attacks on police officers and deep cuts to the front line. Last week coalition MPs voted cheerily for the deepest cuts to policing in generations. With 4,000 frontline officers already gone, we have no confidence that coalition candidates will be prepared to stand up and speak out against the damage the government is doing to vital services.
Indeed Theresa May has already made it clear the Tories are looking for Police and Crime Commissioners in the mould of Tim Collins — someone who has already dismissed Chief Constables as ‘Dr Doolittles’ and ‘social workers’ who should just be retired. Tory candidates lining up to undermine senior police officers at a time when they have a difficult job to do cutting spending while trying to keep crime down would be even more damaging for policing and for forces’ morale.
So Labour will need to make the best of a bad job. If the government pushes ahead with November elections, Labour will stand candidates who will stand up for local communities against government policies which put crime fighting at risk. We will back neighbourhood policing and strong action against crime and anti-social behaviour, just as Labour did in government. And Labour will seek candidates determined to work with their communities, local councils, and the rest of the criminal justice system on plans to prevent crime and support victims alongside firm enforcement of the law.
We have a proud record of working with the police and local communities to tackle crime — and crime fell by over 40% during Labour’s time in Government as a result. Campaigning for those principles and priorities has become even more important now, as David Cameron and his government are putting all that progress at risk.
From ending ASBOs to cutting police officers, from spending on commissioners to stopping crime prevention plans, from weakening counter terror powers to reducing CCTV – the government’s crime policies are weak and out of touch, and it is communities that will pay the price. The Prime Minister should think again on policing and crime before it is too late.
Yvette Cooper is the Shadow Home Secretary