Bermuda Triangle makes PCCs disappear…
This feature originally appeared in Policing Insight and is now published here for wider enjoyment……….
It was 2012 when Theresa May first began to impose the Police Commissioner American dream on the unwitting British Public. I can see why she did it: Who doesn’t look at the US policing model of donut munching and race riots and think “wow we need a bit of that action over here”? Unfortunately it was a bit of a cobbled together rush-job that just confused people with 90% of the public voting with their apathy. Although to be fair with the lack of easily digestible information available at the time we weren’t actually sure if PCC stood for Police and Crime Commissioner or Portaloo Contract Cleaner.
Now in 2016 numbers approaching a heady 25% made the effort to vote this time around, albeit with the help of a local election ‘piggyback’. That’s a bit like when I can’t be bothered to go to the supermarket because I’ve run out of chewing gum but when I happen to be there for meaningful provisions I’ll always grab a packet of Wrigley’s at the till.
I still don’t think that the public are very clear on the role, and indeed the potential value, of Police and Crime Commissioners.
As a cynical cop, for me there’s an even bigger mystery than “do we want PCCs?” and that is “why would anybody actually want to be one?” My local Chief Constable earns circa £142,000 whereas her PCC is looking at £74,000. In what other walks of life does someone on half your salary take full responsibility for your performance and also have the power to sack you – unless your name is Ronaldo?
This unloved underpaid role is not exactly a secure job either. Especially when you consider that this mysterious area of Policedom has swallowed up more unfortunate souls than the Bermuda Triangle – with less than half being re-elected after their four year stint.
And let me take the Bermuda Triangle analogy a step further: As I see it a PCC has three main groups to keep sweet – the public, the police and the Home Secretary. If they focus on one point of the PCC triangle then they automatically turn their back on the other two, who will be prodding them in the back with a pointy stick demanding their attention.
One thing that is absolutely certain is that the pointy stick prodding will intensify. The first batch of fledgling PCCs were given time to find their little baby feet. Let’s face it they’ve not exactly been under the spotlight unless they chose to be à la Ann Barnes (I still cringe, do you?).
Yes they’ve popped up with the odd innovative (that’s PCC speak for recycled) idea and put the odd Chief on ‘gardening leave’, but they’ve generally been allowed to kiss a few babies, keep their heads down and live a pretty charmed life. That’s mainly because recorded crime has continued to drop in spite of the thick end of 25% budget cuts. I’m sure that Theresa, the Tories, the Chiefs, the HMIC, the PCCs and the local witch doctor have all taken credit for crime numbers dropping but when they start to rise, and we all know it’s coming, do you honestly think for one minute that any of the aforementioned will rush to take one for the team? Ha ha! Don’t make me laugh……..
When the numbers go bad rest assured that same witch doctor will be commissioned to carve a wax effigy of their local PCC who, in the absence of a stab vest, will end up with so many pointy stick holes in their backs they’ll look like a ‘Pin Cushion Character’ (Maybe that’s what PCC stands for?)
Some are already toughening up and sharpening their own sticks: Humberside PCC candidate Keith Hunter didn’t go for the softly softly nice guy approach adopted by many of the first batch of PCC candidates. Quite the opposite. He was quoted in the Hull Daily Mail as referring to Humberside Chief Constable, Justine Curran, as “almost invisible”. To be fair, Mr Hunter was raised on the streets of Newcastle and anyone who’s watched Geordie Shore will know that those folks like to call a spade a weapon and are fans of being quite direct.
He also hinted that she was on 6 months’ probation to turn around performance – which is a bit harsh seeing as I’ve nicked dwelling burglars in Humberside who didn’t get that much.
Yes, I have to declare an interest in this one: Humberside is my force and former Chief Superintendent Keith Hunter is my old boss. I also have to consider that if I decide to return to policing as a senior office via the Direct Entry Scheme I want my application viewed favourably by Team Hunter-Curran. I am joking of course – I’ve got far too much practical policing experience to ever be considered for the Direct Entry Scheme.
Now I’m no expert on diplomacy but surely that quote will create a bit of tension now that Mr Hunter has been successfully elected as Humberside PCC? Picture their first meeting: Chief Curran sat at her desk wearing her hi-vis vest and asking, “can you see me now Keith?” PCC Hunter responding with an attempted repair job, “listen I know I said you were ‘almost invisible’ but I said it in a very smiley voice pet.”
Others seemed to get quite upset with Mr Hunter including no less than Tory big-hitter Chris Grayling, who even went as far as to suggest that Mr Hunter “may be unfit for public office”. That was nearly a lovely bit of gossip before people realised that the sentence didn’t actually mean anything. It’s that ‘may be’ tag at the front that completely nullifies all that follows. It’s like me saying Eric Pickles may be a part-time amateur erotic pole dancer or Jeremy Clarkson may be a vegan – might be, might not.
Mr Grayling was accused of ‘mudslinging’ and to be fair the ‘G-Man’ does like to voice his opinion – rightly or wrongly. You may remember him backing up those Christian folk for discriminating against that gay couple by turning them away from their bed and breakfast? In fact David Cameron was so impressed with Grayling’s total inability to grasp basic discrimination law that he made him Justice Secretary.
But say what you like about Christopher Grayling he does know his policing as he was Shadow Home Secretary….right up until the Tories actually got elected – oops! That must have felt like religiously polishing your Dad’s car every Sunday until the day finally arrives that you pass your test and arrive home to be greeted open-armed by your proud father who, with a tear in his eye, produces the car keys and throws them to your sister….and she can’t even drive! The metaphorical sister in this case being Theresa May, of course.
Looking down the list of results I have to say that I’m particularly disappointed by the lack of independent PCCs voted in. Only 3 out of 40. This is one aspect of the role that I really don’t get. When policing is trying desperately to depoliticise itself why do we have any PCCs affiliated to a political party – surely they should all be independent shouldn’t they?
Sadly one Independent – Ann Barnes – didn’t stand for Kent re-election and was succeeded by the Conservative candidate Mathew Scott. Mathew had a very busy start as his first job was to get the carpet cleaners in for the dog hair and then the FAB1 van needed a respray ready for the next Channel 4 documentary.
After her ‘Meet the Police and Crime Commissioner’ documentary faux pas Ann Barnes is an easy target. But poking fun at her always feels a bit like picking on that kid at school with the snotty nose and plastic sandals and so I don’t do it. In fact as a fellow performer I recognise her talent and I’m actually a big fan of hers. I happen to know that she didn’t stand for re-election as she was busy rehearsing a dog dancing routine for Britain’s Got Talent. Still with her luck she’ll have a brilliant audition but just be edited to look very bad.
In 2012 the voting public were asked to embrace PCCs and they said “no thanks” but they didn’t go away. In 2016 they were asked again and the public said “still not convinced”. Well neither am I but they’re still not going away and so perhaps it’s time to consider them a resource to be utilised. So I for one am going to say to our new Police and Crime Commissioners “congratulations and welcome”….oh and “watch your back!”