Monday, 5 October 2009

Directly-elected police commissioners

It is worrying that the Conservatives are persisting with this populist policy, at a time when the United States has virtually got rid of this method of appointment. Criminologist Lawrence Sherman illustrated one reason at a Q&A session in Bournemouth a fortnight ago. If I recall his anecdote correctly, a race-based protest in a southern State was being put down brutally by a police force which was out of control partly because, at the time, its elected commissioner was arguing in the courts for his continuing in an office which the legislature had abolished.


Ryan said...

I think you got the wrong end of the stick. Operational control of the police wouldn't be handed over to an elected Commissioner, but he or she would determine policing priorities.

I'm surprised at your objection because this is one of the few liberal policies the Tories have and there is no harm in handing more control of the police force over to local people.

Anonymous said...

The case could be argued that senior officers of local authorities should be elected, since they make the major decisions within Councils; with Councillors usually just showing deference and rubber stamping!

Perhaps judges and magistrates should be subject to re-election?

Frank Little said...

Anonymous: I take it your comment is ironic?

Ryan, what is wrong with the current system of indirect election: appointment by a democratically-elected body?

Ryan said...

Nothing in theory. However, we are all aware of the incompetence of all local authorities in Wales (bar one or two).

Regardless of my opinion on local authority leadership, I still think there is a strong case to make as many public services as directly accountable to people as possible. I would take the idea further and apply to health boards, fire service authorities, school governors etc.

The biggest failure of the British democracy is the tenancy to over-centralise.

Frank Little said...

I agree with your last point, Ryan, but indirect democracy is not centralisation.

Putting policy decisions directly in the hands of the population is impractical unless money follows. The electorate has also to be presented with the price tag and the responsibility for paying it. This is a hard lesson which the people of California are now learning.

You probably know the objections by the police themselves to the proposition of directly-electing commissioners: that it is wrong to bring in amateurs to manage professionals, and that the proposal would introduce an extra level of bureaucracy.

My own feeling is that direct elections would bring in the breed of chancers we have seen depicted in so many US TV cop shows, who would get themselves elected on a headline-grabbing platform. That would distort police priorities.