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What's the future of PCCs?

As reforms are proposed to clarify the operational independence between chiefs and PCCs Police Oracle speaks to police and crime commissioners about the future of the role.

PCC Paddy Tipping:

PCC Paddy Tipping: "Chief constables can't do in on their own"

Date - 26th March 2021
By - Gary Mason and Chris Smith
6 Comments 6 Comments}

It is fair to says some politicians and the public either know little of the PCC role or doubt its value. But the Home Secretary's review published earlier this month has endorsed the work of these elected officials and says the role can be developed further.

On the final working day before election purdah begins, PCCs signed off with an assessment of the likely challenges over the next four years and what has been achieved in the current term.

It brings to an end a year-long extension of their tenures caused by the decision to cancel local elections last year because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

A good working relationship between a chief constable and their PCC  - or the lack of one - is clearly important and one of the significant powers that PCCs have is hiring and firing chief officers. 

Among the proposals for PCC reform outlined by Priti Patel is that there will be “clearer ways of working” to provide Chiefs with more clarity on their operational independence. There would also be a change in legislation to make the process of dismissing chiefs "more rigourous and transparent" by requiring a PCC to give the Chief Constable written notice (including grounds), as the first stage of the dismissal process; allowing for the Chief to provide HMCIC with a response to those grounds; and introducing some form of time limit or review interval on a Chief Constable’s suspension from office.

Some argue that blurred lines of operational independence emerge more clearly in forces overseen by more powerful regional mayors (who are effecitvely PCCs as well) and after the upcoming elections there will be another one created as the functions of West Yorkshire's PCC are absorbed by the new Mayor. 

At the end of last year GMP chief constable Ian Hopkins suddenly resigned following a highly critical report by HMICFRS.

It was clear that Mayor Andy Burnham had a major say in that decision. In a televised satement following the sudden decision to quit, he said: "I have agreed with Chief Constable Ian Hopkins that he will stand down with immediate effect from his duties."

Mayor Burnham also confirmed today that he had asked CC Hopkins to step aside. 

Some time later with the DCC effectively 'acting up' as chief Andy  Burnham announced “a significant enhancement of GMP’s neighbourhood policing offer" whereby each resident would be given a named officer to contact in order to restore public faith in policing. 

Isn't that a case of interfering with operational matters? 

The nominated head of PCCs stresses that in tackling crime and the causes of crime chief constables cannot do it on their own. 

Nottinghamshire PCC Paddy Tipping (Lab), Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners told Police Oracle: “One of the good things that has come out of all this is the notion of partnerships and working together.

“The Chief Constables can’t do it all by themselves and neither can anyone else. They need to work in partnership with others. The resilience forums have been really important and we need to build on that.”

Mr Tipping also said that PCCs would be drawn further into the youth justice system to reduce offending and that they will also have to prioritise supporting the courts system.

“I’m not confident the court backlog will be resolved as quickly as is being predicted,” he said.

PCCs also believe they have a role in improving confidence in policing by making sure there is diversity in the workforce across the ranks.

Mr Tipping, who as an MP was private secretary to Jack Straw, said: “Setting up the Macpherson Inquiry wasn’t difficult, dealing with it was. I’ve been determined we’d make progress. We want to be the first to have a workforce that reflects the wider community. If we can do that, it would be a tremendous achievement.”

Among the successes for him over the last five years have been a initiative that tackles knife crime at the point of crisis in schools, increasing the number of officers and increasing refuge places for domestic abuse victims.

Derbyshire PCC Hardyal Dhindsa (Lab) said five years of developing local projects and connecting with the community had helped convince many of the role’s value. But he warned more would need to be done.

“There’s still a long way to go but we’re also getting an impact in the community. Working with other partners on community safety is making a difference. We are reaching and engaging with communities far more than the old structure of police authorities.

“I’ve listened, understood and communicated the needs of the local people,” he said.

Tackling rural crime and supporting vulnerable people have been key achievements, using “a small amount of money” he added.

But all of the PCCs contacted by Police Oracle warned an area of concern will be supporting Chief Constables who are new in post. A third of the 43 forces have leaders with less than 2 years’ experience and the loss of knowledge is an issue they want forces to address.

“It’s something that is a worry and we will all have to look at that,” Mr Tipping said.

The assesmmment of PCCs who are standing down is that regardless of the COVID-19 effect, the number of offences in many crime categories is going down and public satisfaction with policing remains high.

Martyn Underhill (Ind), Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “These haven’t been an easy nine years across policing. I came in as PCC when austerity was starting to bite, and just as the taps were being turned back on, we were hit by a global pandemic in which forces nationally were given responsibility for enforcing unprecedented restrictions on people’s liberty.

“Despite this, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve over the last nine years, working with officers, with my own team and with partners across the country.”

Norfolk will have both a new Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner by the end of the year.

The force’s PCC, Lorne Green (Cons), said: “I hope that my successor will put the same emphasis on helping people and crime prevention as with enforcement.”

But are PCCs now in danger of 'mission creep' given that they have sometimes been accused of crossing the line when it comes to operational matters?

Perhaps we should leave the last word to the new chief constable of GMP Steve Watson who was confirmed in the post today by Mayor Andy Burnham. 

He told Police Oracle: “I think the fact that a review has been entered into perhaps indicates that the lines are not always as clear as they could be." 

"But what I do think is clear, and not withstanding any further clarity that might at some point, emerge from the review, is there is a constitutional difference between the roles, those constitutional differences in the legislation, they are set out in the policing protocol. I think it is incumbent on all parties to that relationship to safeguard and uphold the difference between the roles because I do think that all people of goodwill understand why the constitutional differences are important upholding the operational independence of the Chief Constable.

"I think it is an important principle in our constitutional life. But I do not feel that there is so little clarity in the current arrangements that you cannot have a perfectly harmonious, productive, healthy, supportive and challenging relationship all at the same time. That’s something I’ve enjoyed in South Yorkshire and I have every confidence I will enjoy here too."

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Comments

Ordered by:
Johnny7 - Mon, 05 April 2021

PCCs are clones of their political masters. When you look at the quality and calibre of MPs over the last 20/30 years, with them just being puppets of their Central Offices, you have to despair at where this is going.

They are an intellectual vacuum and the irony of them calling each other 'the Right Honourable' is beyond parody.

More political control of the police, with NPCC tugging their forelocks to their PCC masters, will end in tears as the concept of 'without fear or favour' is diminished. Welcome to the Stasi.