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What the PCCs can mean for engagement

By February 2, 20125 Comments

At Public-i we’ve started talking to a number of police authorities, the agencies that will be replaced by the offices of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) when they are elected on the 15th of November this year (2012).

The PCCs will take over responsibility for overseeing 41 police forces on the 16th of November, signalling a radical reshaping of how policing is governed in England and Wales.

The remarkable thing about all this is just how little is known publicly about the PCCs – how they’ll look, what they’ll do and what it means for our democracy. It’s the first time that we’ll have the chance to hold an individual to account at the ballot box for a single service, but there’s been hardly a ripple of interest in the mainstream media. I think there might be at least two reasons for this:-

  • It’s hard to talk about something that doesn’t exist: While all staff from the police authorities transfer automatically to the PCCs, it’s then up to these new folk to decide what happens to them (there are only two statutory roles the PCC must employ – a ‘head of paid staff’ and a chief financial officer).
  • No one gets excited about an electoral race before it has started. And, since just a handful of candidates have confessed an interest in running, it’s hardly surprising that there’s little press attention on what PCCs will do, or indeed an indication from those who’d like to take the role on what they expect from the PCC and its office.

All this is a challenge for police authorities, who are charged with trying to put some flesh on to the bones. This is even harder because it’s a step into the unknown. Police authorities are attempting to shape offices for an unknown elected person without the same statutory framework they have under the current system – it’s not just a change of function, it’s a seismic shift in culture, politics and accountability.

That doesn’t mean that police authorities aren’t seriously thinking about how to deal with this – far from it. We’ve spoken to some brilliant people who are thinking very seriously about the responsibilities the PCC has and how these can be met by the offices they’re creating…

Understanding what PCCs will (and won’t) do

What the Home Office makes clear is that the PCCs will ‘hold the police to account’ on behalf of the people; they won’t run the police! The Home Office envisages the PCCs as the eyes and ears of the public – and its conscience – in relation to police matters. Obviously, this makes engagement a key part of what the PCCs will do.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) requires that PCCs consult with the victims of crime in setting their local policing priorities – and there is a strong emphasis on PCCs making sure they are acting in accordance with the wishes of the communities they serve. How individual PCCs choose to do this will differ considerably, but it’s clear that when the commissioners sit down at their desks on the 16th of November they must be able to establish links throughout their communities very quickly.

I’ve created a crib sheet that says a lot more about the PCCs, which you can read here.

Our thinking

Our chief executive, Catherine Howe, has started to set out her thoughts on the establishment of the PCCs’ offices, emphasising the importance of transparency, democracy and – of course – engagement. She has proposed four principles:-

  1. The office should own the democracy
  2. Be open by default
  3. Create a space where the PCC can listen to the relevant debate and connect with the public
  4. Use really good consultation tools to ensure that decisions are fact – rather than media – based


The potential of PCC engagement

All four principles present challenges for an office that won’t exist officially until later this year – but, as Catherine notes, they are also opportunities. While there will be work to establish the boundaries between the police force’s engagement responsibilities and those of the PCC, there is potential to establish much stronger links (via the office of the PCC) between communities and the police.

PCCs will have the right to publish information they consider necessary for the assessment of the PCC and the chief constable, offering the opportunity for the PCC’s office to become stores of information to help the public understand more about how their area is policed and the resources committed to it. Inevitably, this would lead to a debate and a desire for direct engagement from both the police and the PCC – at which the PCC and its office will be central.

Critically, for the PCCs to be successful, they will need to quickly develop a sophisticated approach to engagement that recognises where communities are, the significant voices within those communities, and how best to talk to them. While the Home Office has suggested that PCCs may benefit from support from partner agencies – such as councils, who have their own ‘mature’ engagement mechanisms – we know from our work helping police forces with social media that discussions about crime, community safety and other police-related matters may take place between people that councils and other agencies aren’t in touch with.

Furthermore, a large part of any PCC’s time, I expect, will be taken up justifying cost. Using digital means to consult and keep in touch with the public on a range of matters may itself offer savings on time and resources – and there will be the opportunity, through a variety of digital means, to allow the public to become better informed on these matters, too.

What I’m hinting at is that, while councils and other existing agencies are on the verge of ‘channel shift’ – whereby traditional communication moves to newer media – the brand-new PCCs can establish for themselves entirely new means of communication and engagement, while also ensuring that those who wish to carry on communicating by traditional means can do so.

Looking forward

We’re just scratching the surface here of what the PCCs might look like – and, frankly, it’s the police authorities that will be doing this work, not us! Nonetheless, there’s a discussion that is now really starting to take shape that we believe we can make a valuable contribution to, particularly when it comes to helping police authorities establish how this engagement work can be best be met.

To help this along, we’ve set up a Citizenscape that we’ll to tell you about very soon. It’s being managed and curated by Daniel Herrera but we’re hoping to gather content from around the country that’s relevant to this debate and hope it’s a useful way of keeping track of what’s going on. Catherine’s posts on PCCs can be found on her blog – and we’ll also be attending events that are relevant to PCCs – including the BlueLight Camp in Manchester in April. So this should be one in a long line of pieces about our thinking!

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Andy Farrell says:

    So basically PCC’s will do everything that is already in place and has been in place since the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act was introduced, with the ‘bonus’ of holding Chief Constables accountable, should the Police fail in the way they have every year since the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act was introduced.

    Sadly a lot of what are viewed as “Police failures” are down to Local Authorities who also have the tools, the responsibility and the accountability as part of their Community Safety Strategies to deal with everything related to ‘broken window syndrome’ which is what, in the main, communities are asking for action on but most, if not all, of the ‘Key Objectives’, within these strategies are not completed in full.

    The much needed communication and engagement is DONE NOW to establish ‘priorities’, not just at the drafting of every Community Safety Strategy by the Police and their other Local Authority partners based on feed back from members of the community but also at Area Committee meetings, PACT meetings and schemes like My Neighbourhood consultations, with the later (for the Police) creating ‘hotspots’ / targeted patrols for Neighbourhood Policing teams.

    Although I feel interest in PCC’s will slightly pick up once candidates are known (especially if any god help us are ‘celebrities’) I think turnout will be very low once people see them as just another (well paid) tier of bureaucracy who because they do not have any powers other Local Authorities will achieve little at the grass routes level.

  • The elections could be a tremendous opportunity for public learning – especially about the (complicated) relationship between policing and crime. We (the Royal Stats Soc’s getstats campaign) are drafting a piece about policing and crime data, in the hope that candidates (and potential members of police and crime panels) will talk sensibly about the stats. Happy to share: contact

  • The creation of the PCC offers a great opportunity to adopt more efficient, inclusive and collaborative ways of working that hold the police to account. We are working with West Midlands Police Authority to assist them with the transition and delivery work associated with this historic change in police governance. You can find out more here.

  • Thanks Jesse, that looks very interesting.

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