There’s no demand for an elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
Whatever criticisms people may have of the police, they haven’t tended to suggest that the solution is to create an elected police chief.
The only proponent of the idea is the government – specifically, the Conservative part of the government – which has decided to impose commissioners despite the lack of any obvious public appetite for them.
When it came to creating directly-elected mayors for cities, ministers chose to hold referendums. But for some reason, police commissioners will be imposed without consulting the public.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners.
It’s hard to see how a single commissioner will be able to reflect the entire community, in all its variety, in the way that existing police authorities do.
There are arguments for having a single figure in charge of any organisation, but that role is already occupied by the Chief Constable.
He or she is in a position to make decisions quickly, when needed, and the buck stops with him or her when the force’s performance is judged.
The role of a police authority, or the new police commissioner, is very different. They scrutinise the force, holding it to account and providing praise and criticism where need be.
This is precisely the sort of role where the ability to make quick decisions is not required, but the ability to speak on behalf of the entire community is. An authority of many people makes more sense than a single commissioner.
Commissioners will also come under pressure to interfere in the day to day running of the force, even though it’s not their job, because they will be blamed when something goes wrong. This risks creating conflicts with chief constables.
But perhaps we’re just crying over spilt milk. There’s plenty of time to scrap the plan – and this government is hardly averse to making U-turns – but it seems unlikely that Ministers will give up the proposals.
If commissioners are to be installed in police forces, it is essential to ensure the process is genuinely democratic by getting information about the poll out to voters.
There’s a role for local and regional media in this, but not as a substitute for a concerted, publicly-funded campaign to get the vote out, which must include delivering at least one piece of literature through every letter box in England and Wales.
Websites and phone lines are fine – for people who already know the position exists and are motivated to find out more.
If ministers insist on pressing ahead with police commissioners, they can’t be half-hearted about it. The government must ensure these elections are well-publicised, spark real public debate and prompt a reasonable turn out, for the sake of good policing in our region.