We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

What’s life like with a directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner?

September 18, 2012 6:07 PM
By Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the London Assembly in Fighting Crime - Locally by the Lib Dem LGA group

The passionate advocates of Police and Crime Commissioners often state that London has 'led the way'. Speaking from direct experience I have to say the reality is that there is very little to boast about so far!

It is true that the Mayor of London is now ultimately responsible for supervising the Metropolitan Police Service, with the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) replaced earlier this year by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).

Uniquely in London the Office is headed by the Mayor or by whomever the Mayor nominates as the statutory Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. Boris Johnson opted for the latter option and appointed the former Conservative Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Stephen Greenhalgh to the post following May's election. Previously the post was held by a London Assembly Member who at least had an electoral mandate!

Furthermore, the previous Deputy Mayor worked with all parties on the Assembly and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to develop protocols on how the new system would work and improve transparency around policing in the capital. Sadly Boris' new Deputy is out of his depth and has approached the role with three A's - aggression, arrogance and attitude - something that has rubbed all parties up the wrong way!

The London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee (PCC) examines the work of MOPAC. I am Deputy Chair of this committee and it has an additional remit to other such Committees elsewhere in the country. In addition to holding the Deputy Mayor to account for his actions we can investigate anything which we consider to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in Greater London and make recommendations for improvements.

So for example, at the moment we are carrying out an investigation into how victims of crime are treated in the capital, examining why the Met has the lowest victim satisfaction rating of any police force in England and Wales. We also hold a monthly Question and Answer hearing with the Deputy Mayor and the Commissioner of the Metropolis.

So what lessons can be learnt from this brave new policing model trialled in London?

Firstly, I would recommend viewing the YouTube video of the Deputy Mayor's first appearance before our Police and Crime Committee. To turn up not being briefed and to have told another guest - the Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe - not to attend our meeting is not the best tactic of working with your Police and Crime Panel. It showed utter contempt for democratic accountability.

But there are some simple lessons that can already be learnt.

Key is ensuring that past records and expertise are not lost. It might seem a small measure but it was really important that Baroness Dee Doocey, my former colleague on the Metropolitan Police Authority, obtained a firm guarantee that the old website of the Metropolitan Police Authority is permanently maintained. Numerous reports and detailed records and transcripts from past meetings are still available and will play a key role in supporting further scrutiny and ensuring corporate memory is not lost. Furthermore, this new structure will only work if there is respect all round from the Directly Elected Commissioner to the Chief Constable to the Police and Crime Panel. Protocols must be established which guarantee access to information and to police officers - both for private briefings and for public scrutiny.

In London, the battle lines have been drawn with the new Deputy Mayor insisting any requests for information from the Met go through him. He will assess if he thinks it is in line with our duties and decide if he will permit the Met Police to provide the said information. He is also furious that the Commissioner has agreed to attend our monthly Q&A meetings.

I would argue that members of the newly established Police and Crime Panels around the country must have a direct interface with senior police officers. They must also be able to put questions directly to senior police officers, with their answers being on record. Indeed to be denied such access or ability to question senior police officers, as well as the new Police and Crime Commissioner, would totally undermine the effectiveness of our scrutiny.

So to conclude, the situation in London is far from perfect. We still have a long way to go to ensure that we have real checks and balances in place and that the Metropolitan Police Service is ultimately accountable to Londoners. If you serve on a Police and Crime Panel in a few months time prepare to fight your corner!

Caroline is Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly. She is Deputy Chair of the London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee and was a Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority from 2008 to 2012