Adrian Sanders: New commissioner should know the police inside out
On November 15, the residents of Devon and Cornwall will have the chance to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner, writes Torbay MP Adrian Sanders
This is a new innovation; a post that will oversee the work of the local police and help decide what the local priorities should be. The idea is that the police force will become more receptive to the needs of local people and more democratically accountable for how they approach tackling crime and how they spend public money.
The Chief Constable and his senior officers will still have full control over the day-to-day running of the police so it is clear that the commissioner will not be able to abuse their position for narrow political interest. Indeed, they will have to swear an oath of impartiality once they take office, ensuring that they take account of the views of all parts of the community they represent. It's slightly curious that the Government has chosen to allow political parties to compete in these elections but nonetheless, this should not deter people from using this opportunity to have a greater say and more importantly a more local say over how public services are delivered.
Part of the experiment for the Police Commissioners is to see if we get a good field of candidates who have the experience and expertise to take on the role. The Commissioner will have to tackle a wide range of issues and perform a number of different functions, but above all an in-depth knowledge of how the police force currently works will be essential.
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Interestingly, as I talk to people about this election they all agree that the most important factor that will determine their vote isn't independence or party loyalty but who is the best qualified for the job.
Above all the biggest challenge will be managing intense media scrutiny and the many, often conflicting, demands of the public. The reality is that we will never have unlimited funds for the police force and people will always be disappointed that the focus is not on the issue that immediately affects them, whether it is speeding motorists, anti social behaviour or wildlife crime. The commissioner will have to balance all of these needs and there will be immense pressure for the police budget to be stretched ever further.
Devon and Cornwall's make up – large rural areas with some highly urban areas with inner city challenges such as Torbay and Plymouth – provide unique difficulties. The idea of looking strategically at how to tackle these challenges does, however, provide some opportunities for injecting radical solutions into how we approach policing and more widely how we can prevent crime occurring in the first place. Some issues that could well do with a fresh look include the role drugs play, the need to improve working between different agencies such as councils and the NHS on preventing crime, how the police support victims of crime and importantly how to maintain morale of staff in the face of funding cuts.
I think in Devon and Cornwall at least we've had a good spread of candidates come forward who are all aware of these issues but so far only one, Brian Blake, has any experience of frontline policing.
The cuts the police are facing will make this an even more challenging time so it is ever more crucial that the new commissioner is someone who knows the police inside out and has the experience to grapple with the range of problems they will face.