A Police and Crime Commissioner’s Dilemma

A member of the public is frustrated by the lack or inadequacy of a police response to an incident and tweets a request for help to their PCC; so far so good and perfectly understandable. The PCC clearly wants to help their constituent and retweets to senior police commanders asking for a response; again at first glance this seems to be a perfectly reasonable response. PCCs were created to give the public a say in how they are policed, and responding to incidents is evidently a major factor in delivering a policing service.

I would argue that this is, in fact, a troubling interference in operational policing, clearly outside the remit of the PCC, and will generate an unintended harmful consequence.

The police receive many calls for service, covering a huge range of different issues, requiring carefully judged responses in terms of timing and resources. Sometimes an immediate response is appropriate, sometimes it’s best to wait and see and on other occasions no more than a reassuring phone call or visit in due course is required. In all cases there is a decision to be made about whether committing resources to an incident will have an impact on other policing duties. This is a difficult balance to achieve, and properly tests the ability of police control room staff (and senior officers as needed) to get it as right as possible.

There are never enough resources to do everything so some requests for service will be delayed or dealt with unsatisfactorily in the eyes of the citizens and, for that matter, from the perspective of the police. Difficult decisions have to be made, and are made impartially in the light of urgency, seriousness and availability of resources, not according to who makes the request.

A real-time request for a police response made by the PCC must be seen as an attempt, albeit well-intentioned, to interfere in this decision-making process; in other words in operational policing.

Not only is this not a matter for the PCC such action will probably have the effect of encouraging members of the public to direct their calls for service via. the PCC (as well as the normal routes). Will those citizens with access to Twitter accounts be able to “jump the queue” and receive a preferential service? Obviously the police can simply ignore the request from the PCC (who has the ability to fire the Chief Constable, remember) or change operational priorities on the basis of influence not evidence.

So, either the PCC’s requests for response are met by the police, thus interfering with operational decision-making and encouraging further such interventions, or the requests are ignored in which case the request was no more than an empty gesture and may lead to further disappointment.

I suggest that an appropriate response from a PCC to a citizen making a request for an immediate police response is to advise that this is an operational matter not within the remit of the PCC.  It would be legitimate to reassure that the PCC will review the overall strategic approach to calls for service with the Chief Constable at their next meeting.

Have I got this right?


About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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One Response to A Police and Crime Commissioner’s Dilemma

  1. Definitely right Tom and of course there is another dimension when the PCC is a political nominee as it gives, or may be perceived to give, members of that party better access to policing services. As they are all relatively new in their roles a number of them haven’t grasped the no interference in operational matters nettle and want to please. They need educating politely but firmly by Chiefs and/or their own staff if experienced in these issues.

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