The government has made a clear commitment to directly elected individuals (elected police commissioners), but the specifics of how they will carry out their role still need development. I have pulled together some of my thoughts on how this might work and some of the pitfalls.
Focus – there is concern that the focus of DEIs will be too skewed towards local issues, and the ‘invisible’ areas of policing such as sexual offences, domestic violence, serious and organised criminality and preventing terrorism may not be given the prominence they deserve. Collaboration is a major potential deliverer of value for money and savings over the next few years, and as such DEIs should embrace it as a concept. Government must clearly articulate the responsibilities of DEIs for these matters as well as to local concerns, and ensure that the mechanisms for election and removal of DEIs and Chief Constables take account of all areas of policing.
A requirement for DEIs and Chief Constables to agree and jointly publish a contract for policing, setting out a vision for improvement which covers all these areas within a few weeks of the DEI taking office would be one way to ensure that all priorities were addressed.
Support – Police Authorities have a reasonably large number of members, and a small number of support staff, usually including legal and financial advice. Thought needs to be given to the functions that would remain with the DEI and those that might move to the force, and then to consider the scale of support needed by the DEI. Greater integration of the DEI with force senior teams would remove the need for much of the financial and legal advice currently provided to authorities, and there is some duplication between forces and authorities currently around public consultation and communications activities. This could lead to a smaller support structure than currently. Conversely the DEI may have little or no connection to the local councils, and as one individual will not be physically able to attend council, partner, CSP etc meetings on a regular basis.
As well as the number of people supporting the DEI, consideration needs to be given to their term in office. Are they permanent (like police authority staff and civil servants) or will they be appointed by each DEI as he or she takes office? Consideration needs to be given either way to how this team can interact with the force staff and force budgets to ensure that there is an effective partnership.
Checks and Balances – the system by which the DEI holds forces to account needs to be transparent and robust. A contract for policing, agreed between the DEI and force upon election should include details on how the force will be held to account, and should be jointly agreed by the chief constable and the DEI. The creation of locally agreed targets and priorities to deliver this contract should be a matter for the DEI, in consultation with the force.
Budgets are currently agreed by the police authority, with detailed decisions on the overall budget delegated to the chief constable. A similar arrangement concentrates a significant amount of control with the DEI. A way of including other local partners in the budget setting process would be welcome, if it could be done without additional bureaucracy. There should also be a mechanism for partners to be involved in scrutiny activities holding the DEI to account against the contract for policing and targets and priorities. This could possibly be done through existing council scrutiny arrangements, but how any sanctions would then be applied would be interesting…
Name – ‘DEI’? How do you pronounce that? Deity (Directly Elected Individual To You). We need something else, something snappy. Perhaps we should steal from the military and call them police admirals or colonels? You probably have much better ideas than me – feel free to post them.