On Friday the winners of the first ever Police and Crime Commissioners election were revealed. Today three of them will be officially accepting their new posts.
But controversy surrounded the day as low numbers of people turned out to vote across the UK, the lowest in the Midlands was Staffordshire where just 11.59% of the electorate.
Many people blamed the reason for not going to the polling station on a lack of information about the role itself as well as about the people standing for the election. The Government only launched the website www.choosemypcc.org.uk, detailing the candidates standing for the PCC position, three weeks before voting started.
The entire set-up of the new role has also cost around £100 million, something many people also criticised the new role for.
So, just what is a Police and Crime Commissioner and why do we need one?
The simplest way to explain the Police and Crime Commissioner is that, yes it is a new role but it is essentially replacing the Police Authority which has now been scrapped.
The Police Authority was a committee made up of local councillors, magistrates and public servants, the public did not get a say on who would join, they had to be nominated from within the board. Whereas almost anyone can be nominated for PCC and the public vote for who they want, which instead of a committee of people is just one person.
The main point or role of the PCC is the same as a Police Authority which is to ensure an efficient and effective police force. Though, there are some additional duties for PCCs compared to the Police Authority.
Each police force will have a Police and Crime Commissioner to replace each Police Authority.
In the Midlands that means nine police forces, each having a PCC:
- West Midlands - Bob Jones
- Warwickshire - Ron Ball
- West Mercia - Bill Longmore
- Derbyshire - Alan Charles
- Northamptonshire - Adam Simmonds
- Nottinghamshire - Paddy Tipping
- Leicestershire - Sir Clive Loader
- Staffordshire - Matthew Ellis
- Lincolnshire - Alan Hardwick
Edward Boyd a research fellow at think tank Policy Exchange explained that the Police and Crime Commissioner has two main roles:
The police exist to serve the public. The PCC will ensure that the public's priorities are at the heart of the police force's mission. PCCs will need to local people and reflect lots of different opinions when setting the police priorities. In one community people might have a big problem with anti-social behaviour whereas in another they may have a big problem with burglary.
Edward Boyd says that until now Whitehall has had a powerful voice in forming police priorities, and that under PCCs this is likely to change with the public's view being represented far more in each force area.
The second role of the PCC will be to have an overall responsibility of crime which the Police Authority never had. This means they have a duty to ensure that the police partners are pulling their weight and upholding their crime fighting responsibilities. One example given by Edward Boyd:
– Edward Boyd
"Some mental health agencies are not available over the weekend, which can in turn increase the demand for police services. This might be something PCCs will want to look at."
Edward Boyd said because the PCC will be voted in by the public, he/she will have a stronger voice to put pressure on organisations that need to tighten rules or make changes to improve things for the public as well as avoiding crime where possible.
– Edward Boyd
"The PCCs will have a greater weight of authority than the Police Authorities had."
To set up the Police and Crime Commissioner posts cost the taxpayer £100 million. Some would argue perhaps now is not the best time to reform the police authority when the economy is in such a delicate condition and speculated by some to be on the verge of a triple-dip recession. But Edward Boyd said "it is difficult to put a price on democracy".
PCCs will be elected every four years, the Government is hopeful that next time round more people will be aware of what the role involves and what can be achieved.