Friday, August 20, 2010

Elected police commissioners: an opportunity for lefties?

The government are planning to introduce directly-elected police commissioners. It is easy to see the problems that this might cause. It will politicise the police, and could open the door to authoritarian right-wing populists or even fascists being elected to run police forces. After all, fighting crime is traditionally perceived as an issue where people favour right-wing solutions, with right-wing newspapers promoting fear of crime and ever more authoritarian policies.

But I think there is an opportunity here, and that lefties should develop strategies to win these elections and show how our ideas are better at reducing crime. There are several reasons why this might be possible.

Firstly, the policies of the Coalition government are likely to see crime increase. They are sacking police officers, making people unemployed, closing schemes which help ex-offenders, scrapping pilot projects which would help survivors of domestic violence, cutting benefits for the poorest and most desperate, shutting down activities for young people, removing regulations on slum landlords. Any one of these policies would probably see crime increase, all of them together is likely to have a devastating impact.

Secondly, there are plenty of good examples of leftie policies which work in cutting crime. From setting up City Safe Havens to providing diversionary activities for young people, Neighbourhood Policing Teams to Domestic Violence Prevention Orders, charities helping young prisoners and their families to regulation for private housing, the Left is fizzing with ideas which are rooted in real, grassroots experience about how to cut crime.

Thirdly, our approach to cutting crime fits well with our grassroots campaigning approach. Running community campaigns to raise funding for youth activities in places where families can't afford to go on holiday, persuading shopkeepers to sign up to become City Safe Havens, volunteering for local charities - these are all things which many lefties do anyway, elections or no elections. These elections are likely to have a low turnout, by getting involved and backing candidates who share our values, we can make sure that people get into the habit of voting and see the benefits of doing so.

Fourthly, when they are given the chance, people like the leftie approach to cutting crime. I saw some of the Participatory Budgeting events which the Home Office ran recently on letting local people choose how to spend money to cut crime. Given the choice between CCTV or funding an outreach worker for street drinkers, they picked the latter. Youth activities scored higher than graffiti removal - just because people read the Daily Mail doesn't mean that they won't support good ideas.

And lastly, it is a really powerful way to show how Labour has changed for the better. Although crime fell dramatically under the last Labour government, most people didn't believe the stats. These elections offer the opportunity for us to make a real difference to people's lives through grassroots-led, effective campaigning on one of the most important issues affecting people.


At 10:24 am , Blogger Jim Jepps said...

Interesting post. I happen to think the police are politicised already so a bit of democratic accountability might be an improvement.

At 11:24 am , Anonymous Liam Murray said...

Electing police commissioners is a good idea because it gives people the choice about how their community is policed. The only plausible objection to that is on the grounds that you don't think people should have such a choice; you can't object on the grounds of the choice they might make!

Didn't TB get into trouble once for appearing to endorse the criticisms often levelled at the hard left on this front? I'm sure he was defending choice in schools and said something like:

"Either parents should be able to choose their school or they shouldn't - if standards fall in some areas because that choice exists that doesn't mean it should be removed".

At 1:52 pm , Anonymous Antonia said...


In principle, I really like these ideas - and of course I agree that as lefties we have better ideas for how to cut crime than the headbangers.

But - and it's a big but - few of the activities you note as suggestions are or would usually be funded from local policing budgets (okay, so neighbourhood policing would, but most of the others not.) One of the biggest obstacles neighbourhood policing faces in my area is that the solutions to the policing priorities identified by the neighbourhood are not open to the police to influence. Residents would like the trffic wardens to come to our estate at school opening and closing, but the private company that runs them refuses as we have no parking restrictions, and residents would like the youth club to open for longer hours, but the county council refuses. They would also like more residential drugs rehab places, but no-one can find out how to influence that.

Now, of course, an elected police chief has a strong mandate to sit at partnership boards and argue for these things to happen, but I'm not sure they have more power than that. Which is a shame.

At 2:11 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

We'll have to wait for the legislation, but I wonder whether there will be crafty ways to raise money for some of these things.

e.g. If the police could raise money by fining slum landlords through some loophole in the legislation and then use the money to run playschemes, something like that. Or they could just get the police to stop wasting money on some of the nonsense that they spend it on currently.

Even if not, it would be a great platform to put pressure on the people who have the money, particularly if it were an elected commissioner backed up by the local community. Also a good campaigning issue - if we elect police commissioners, and they lack the powers to do the things which people want them to, then Labour could promise to give them those powers if elected.


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