On 22nd November 2012 the new Police and Crime Commissioners will take up their posts with the proper intention of ensuring that Chief Constables’ decisions reflect the priorities of the people they serve.
The challenge for the PCC is to exert that influence without impinging on the operational independence of the Chief Constable. It is quite clear that there should be no influence on decisions to arrest or prosecute alleged offenders, for example, but it becomes, for some, less clear when the longer term deployment of staff is concerned.
It may seem obvious that when a local priority is for “more community officers”, “more traffic cars” or “a Special Constable in every village” then the Chief Constable needs to respond directly and deploy officers accordingly. This, however, would amount to falling into three different and important traps.
First, the “priorities” identified are of the wrong order or type. They are in fact a request for resource “inputs” and not the “outcomes” that the PCCs should be identifying. PCCs should engage with the community by finding out what they want to improve – “outcomes” such as less crime, less disorder and fewer traffic collisions – not how the improvement should be achieved. That is a matter for professionals.
Second, deployment of staff, who and how many will work where and when, must remain the responsibility of the Chief Constable who has the detailed knowledge of staff, their skills and abilities, a responsibility for their health and safety as well as their training and development. Staff cannot be led by two masters.
And third, delivering successful outcomes it not just a matter of deploying more staff to deal with the issue. It will probably involve a complex mix of police staff and officers (warranted) with different knowledge and experience, partners who have knowledge and abilities to bear on the problem, members of the public themselves and a range of technological support. Simply throwing more and more officers at problems – more “bobbies on the beat” – is probably not the best way to deliver results in an increasingly complex policing environment.
The key point is not to jump to conclusions but to try to solve the problem, deliver the optimal outcome, in the most cost-effective way. And this is where the PCC can bring real benefits to the process. Although the Chief Constable will rely on a range of influences to make good decisions, including the new College of Policing, and should use evidence and proven good practice, ultimately the PCC will judge whether those decisions resulted in delivering the benefits that the local citizens identified as priorities.
The PCC should be remorselessly robust in demanding value for money, in insisting on best practice being followed (appropriately locally adapted), in encouraging innovation and in ensuring priority outcomes are achieved. Put simply, the PCC should ask the questions “Why?” and “Whether?” not “How?”.
This approach will properly challenge Chief Constables to do the very best with the resources they have. As well as insisting on the use of proven tactics, it will also drive experimentation, innovation and partnership working.
While we all share concerns about the role and impact of PCCs, we can take advantage of the inevitable by creating the role of critical friend rather than a second Chief Constable.