PCC – critical friend or second Chief Constable?

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.


About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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13 Responses to PCC – critical friend or second Chief Constable?

  1. Reblogged this on leftoflightwater and commented:
    This is an excellent post (by a former Chief Constable) that highlights the difference between what a PCC SHOULD do and what they all-too-often TALK ABOUT doing.

  2. Ivan Jordan says:

    Gosh I wish more people understood the point made so well in this post. So many PCC candidates campaigning out of remit, very hard not get sucked into it, but I am trying!

  3. These are very wise words from Tom who I think has hit the nail on the head.

    Far too many of the ‘pledges’ and promises made by the PCC candidates seem to revolve around inputs and outputs with precious little attention being paid to outcomes. Here for example is the Tory Candidate’s ‘manifesto’ for Thames Valley from his website (http://www.anthonystansfeld.org.uk/campaign-pledges) with my added notations in square brackets:

    If elected as the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony pledges:
    To reduce crime and drive up detection rates. [outcome + output]
    To maintain the balance between urban and rural policing. [input]
    To ensure that the Police budget is targeted effectively. [input]
    To protect vulnerable people. [outcome]
    To ensure the Police act firmly and fairly, using good judgement to deal with the public politely, gaining their respect and acting with integrity. [input + input + input + outcome + input]

    I would expect there are other examples from other manifestos of a similar and worrying mix. The are some fun times ahead as the PCCs and CCs square up to each other…

    Meanwhile, my ‘Secret PCC’ has, of course, developed a clear 10 point plan on how to tackle police officer and staff morale – a plan that any Chief would be unwise to challenge of course…


  4. Jonathan says:

    But part of the problem with the current system is a lack of local democratic influence over the activities of the police. The ‘what’ is certainly important, but that doesn’t mean that the ‘how’ is unimportant.

    There are marked differences in opinion of how best to act on priorities between constabularies and Chief Constables across the country. There is a large degree of subjectivity in the decisions taken. This is inevitable and unavoidable. However because it is subjectivity, such decisions should be strongly subject to democratic influence Saying “leave it to the professionals” can be quite an arrogant thing to say, not least when professionals do not agree, and certainly so when the public is not happy with the decisions being taken (or decisions not being taken!), but to date has had no real ability to force their Chief Constables to sort themselves out. There have been a few local examples of local policing priorities being set by democratically elected members after consultation with the public, but the police simply saying they disagree and won’t enforce those laws. That sort of thing should be unacceptable, but at present no-one can do anything about it.

    Police Authorities have been too removed from the public, full of placemen and appointees, and have ended up being a very expensive talking shop for how little they’ve achieved. It’s not surprising that Chief Constables have been happy with that arrangement as it has given them a large degree of latitude. But it is not in line with a just and accountable society.

    Yes it’s very good to talk about what PCCs should or should not do, and personally I think it’s vital that an evidence-based approach should be taken by PCCs, and that is what would influence my choice of PCC. But I absolutely defend the right of the public to make their own decision about who they think would best represent them as PCC, even if I disagree, and the Chief Constable should be acting to support the PCC.

    I don’t think there should be any question of confusion of “two Chief Constables” because the PCC is the democratically elected representative, and as long as they act within their remit (not interfering with specific investigations etc.), what they say does matter more, the main reason being that it is only the PCC that the public can boot out if they disagree, or are considered to have failed. The PCC will have a greater democratic mandate to take decisions for a local constabulary than anyone else, including the Home Secretary (if 3000 people in Maidenhead had voted differently, she would not be an MP, nevermind Home Secretary).

    Some PCCs will be good, some will make poor decisions, but at least they will be judged at the ballot box. They should sink or swim on their own merits. Unless Chief Constables are willing to put themselves at the mercies of the same process and allow themselves to be subject to the risk of summary dismissal every few years, then I suggest they support PCCs in their decisions.

    • Jonathan says:

      I should probably just re-emphasise that I’m still talking about decisions within the legal remit of PCCs. But a PCC saying to a Chief Constable that a crime X should be a higher priority in area Y definitely does have an operational impact. It’s not allocating specific resources per se, but it should mean resources are allocated at what sometimes could end up being a relatively detailed level (say, tackling underage drinking in Mill Road, Cambridge, as an example). Obviously that wouldn’t always be the case, but it would come down to that sometimes.

      • tomclloyd says:

        Clearly, the Chief Constable must respond to the priorities set by the PCC, and focus resources accordingly, but should not be bound by the methods proposed by the PCC or the public to deliver those outcomes. Professionals lapse into arrogance when they do not respond to legitimate challenges on the grounds of best-practice, cost-effectiveness, etc. If a proper dialogue takes place the process needn’t be antagonistic.

        You mention underage drinking in Mill Road (I appreciate just an example) as a priority and the impact that would almost inevitably have on deployment of police resources. What I’m trying to suggest is that police resources are but one of many options for resolving this problem, and may not be the most effective or cost-effective. Interventions by other agencies, families, schools, local adults, perhaps working with the police, could resolve the situation better, for the long term and at far less cost.

        PCCs should be thinking about problem solving in the round, not just how and where to deploy police resources to tackle issues.

      • Jonathan says:

        My apologies but I should have made something clear: underage drinking in Mill Road was only intended as a plausible example to give an idea of what sort of thing I was referring to. It was not intended to be based on fact, so as to try and avoid going down sidetracks discussing specific incidents. For all I know, maybe I’m wrong and it is in fact a real problem :-).

        In answer to your reply, in one sense I agree that Chief Constables (CCs) shouldn’t be absolutely bound by what the PCC says in all circumstances, and that dialogue is vital. But it takes two to tango, and while PCCs could ask for something unrealistic or unachievable, not everything falls into that category and therefore it’s also important that CCs should not be rejecting what the PCC says because they have their own way they’d prefer to do it, or just because they disagree with how to tackle a problem. There is a risk that CCs take too much to heart what you said further up that “That is a matter for professionals”.

        To my mind, the relationship ought to work more like that of Councillors and council officers, or (to a slightly lesser extent) Government and civil servants. One has the democratic mandate and comes up with policy, the other often comes up with proposals as to the ‘how’ and discussions take place; this is in line with what you said about the “critical friend”. e.g. Councillors ask for traffic lights at a junction, and plans are put together by officers, discussed by everyone and usually agreed. But in case of disagreement, the democratically elected side gets the right to make the decision as it is only they who answer to their constituents.

        You say about working with other agencies. I don’t see any reason why a PCC couldn’t make building good relationships with those agencies one of their priorities if they so wished. It isn’t precluded, and it does take resources to do the liaising. So yes I agree with you that PCCs should solve problems in the round, so I hope that the PCCs that get elected do just that. But it’s a matter of opinion, and may not be universally true, hence the desirability for local priorities made with democratic input.

        Incidentally, I think it’s inevitable that there will be problems somewhere in the country with the first batch of PCCs as they all have to find their feet at the same time, simultaneously with the constabularies having to adapt to the new structure too. But that won’t mean the idea itself is (necessarily!) flawed once the dust settles.

    • Out of curiousity Jonathan would you make the same argument for local health services too? Should be subject to democratic oversight by a single individual too?

      • Jonathan says:

        I think there is a lot more differentiation of needs at a local level with policing, compared to healthcare.

      • Huh? Are you saying that health care is less complex than policing? I am really not sure I would agree with you there. Even if I did, surely that is an argument in favour of a similar model of singular control not against. I am confused….

  5. And you answer above Jonathan shows, I am afraid, your ignorance of the role of PCC – it is exactly NOT like that of councillors and council officers since there is no statutory operational independence between officers and councillors as there will be between PCCs and CCs

  6. Pingback: On the need to gain popular support for electoral reform

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