Friday, 1 April 2011

Elected police commissioners by May 2012

There was a move by Labour during the week to delay the introduction of directly-elected police commissioners. During the Second Reading debate on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, Vernon Coaker MP for Gedling, introduced a new clause which would ensure that there would in effect be an impact assessment before the relevant sections of the Act were brought into force. The move was defeated by almost 100 votes, coalition MPs voting solidly against. Green Caroline Lucas and SDLP Naomi Long voted with Mr Coaker. I am disappointed that they were not joined by at least one Liberal Democrat.

When I last blogged about this in 2009, Ryan opined that this was a liberal measure. He reckoned that since they would not be involved in day-to-day operations, but would set policing priorities, electing commissioners directly would be a democratic move.

But it is just this "setting of priorities" that bothers me. Take this scenario. We already know that older people vote disproportionately more than any other sector of the population. It can also be shown that the older one becomes, the more one is concerned about gatherings of youths, whether disorderly or not. So we could have a contest for police commissioner between candidates bidding on the strength of how effective they would be in clearing the streets of young people. One could substitute other illiberal "priorities".

There is another priority which is relevant in the case of South Wales Police, that of geography. If the police authority boundaries are not redrawn before the elections take place, the first SWP commissioner will be the one who most pleases Cardiff and its environs, because that is where the weight of the population is. He or she is not going to be re-elected if they do not concentrate their policing on the streets and the high-profile events in the capital, to the detriment of Neath, Swansea and Port Talbot.

Ryan was rude about the quality of local councillors like me. However, I find that the questions put to our chief constable when he (or she) comes before council each year are searching, because they are based on direct experience or the concerns of their ward constituents. What would replace these sessions? An interview on TV by a comfortable metropolitan journalist most interested in scoring points?

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