Police and Crime Commissioners: The other election on May 5th

What are Police and Crime Commissioners? Well, in an attempt to bring more accountability to policing, the Police and Crime Commissioners were implemented in 2012

By Ellise Nicholls

On the 5th of May, not one but two important elections will open to the public. Alongside your chance to decide which AMs will form the Welsh Assembly, for the second time you will be able to choose your next police and crime commissioners (or PCCs).

There is one elected officer per Welsh force area, including Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed Powys and North Wales. The roles have been shrouded with controversy from the start, and, since 2012, seem to have slipped even further into the unknown.

So, this begs the question: What are Police and Crime Commissioners? Well, in an attempt to bring more accountability to policing, the Police and Crime Commissioners were implemented in 2012 by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

The new roles replaced the police authorities in England and Wales, which consisted of councillors appointed by local authorities that formed part of the force. Now, there is a Police and Crime Commissioner for each force across England and Wales.

The first PCC’s were elected on 15th November 2012 to serve for three-and-a-half-years, but subsequent PCCs, including those elected in 2016, are to serve for four years.

And what do Police Crime Commissioners actually do?

Similar to the former police authorities, it is the PCC’s responsibility to oversee and set the budget for the force area. This includes allocating itself enough money from the overall policing budget.

They are responsible in determining the local police ‘precept’ – the amount people pay through their council tax for policing, which often acts as a top up for grants from the Home Office and above.

They are in place to make sure the force is efficient and effective, setting the policing priorities, which are drawn up with the help of the public and victims, through what is known as a ‘police and crime plan’.

Most importantly, they are able to hold the chief constable to account giving them the authority to take action to appoint or dismiss as they deem necessary.

Since the enforcement of the Police and Crime Commissioners, there has only been one example of this happening in Wales. In 2013, chief-constable Carmel Napier was ousted from her position by independent Gwent PCC Ian Johnston. Mrs Napier, who had lost the confidence of the public, her officers, and her staff was forced to quit, described by Johnston as ‘for the good of the people of Gwent’.

PCC’s hold the strings in part, but they are not in the position to tell police officers how to do their job, which falls under the responsibility of the Chief Constable who has full control over his or her staff. Although PCC’s have power of direction over Chief Constables, they cannot interfere with the operational independence of the police, which is protected in legislation.

The first PCCs election in November 2012 had the lowest turnout in peacetime Britain. Across England and Wales, fewer than 15 per cent of voters turned out in the 41 police areas electing a Police Crime and Commissioner.

Ministers were quick to place the blame on a lack of familiarity and understanding of the PCC, using the first election of the Mayor of London, which had a low turnout but quickly gained momentum, as a prime example.

Others were more critical, proposing that the low turnout was a direct effect of bad planning and procedure. Former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke told BBC news those elections had ‘no mandate to lead policing in their communities’.

He continued saying the low turnout together with ‘large numbers of people spoiling their papers and many people saying they have no knowledge at all or information about the elections as a result of the way the government organised it means there isn’t a mandate’.

The government were criticized for not providing appropriate funding for mailshots alongside holding the poll in an unfamiliar time of year. The Electoral Reform Society – a group who campaign for a better democracy – called it a lesson in how not to run an election.

Elections for the 41 police force areas in England and Wales will take place on Thursday 5th May 2016. Candidates running for the South Wales Police Crime and Commissioner 2016 position include: Mike Baker (Independent); Tim Davies (Welsh Conservative Party); Alun Edward Michael (Labour and Cooperative Party); Linet Margaret Purcell (Plaid Cymru); and Judith Barbara Woodman (Welsh Liberal Democrats).

For more information and to view candidate election statements you can visit the choosemypcc website where you can use their online search tool to find individual candidate profiles or download a candidate information booklet.