With the next elections for the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) scheduled for the May 7, 2020, I thought it appropriate to assist you the public of Sussex with a few facts and opinions which may assist you when you go to the polls. In the past, there has been a very low turn-out of voters, around 15% is the national average, at past elections which is a shame because the role is a critical one.
Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary created these roles. They replaced the former police authorities which were made up of a mix of local councillors and independents. Whilst there was office support, these individuals were paid expenses only and arguably provided a more accountable forum. The first PCC election was held in 2012 and then subsequently in 2016.
In the most basic terms, the role of the PCC is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing.
Since its inception, the Sussex PCC position has been held by Katy Bourne, a staunch Conservative politician and she intends to stand again in May. The fact that she is a politician means that she is in the majority. Out of 43 police forces, there are only three independent PCCs. The remainder are Conservative and Labour politicians. This, to my mind anyway, makes the PCC role a flawed concept in that it immediately puts day to day control of the police in the hands of politicians. The police should be above politics in my opinion and I firmly believe that the creation of PCCs was a deliberate act by David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, and Theresa May to gain control of policing.
The cost of the Office of the PCC in Sussex is not inconsiderable standing at around £1.6 million out of a total police budget of just under £250 million. The police budget is made up of a central government grant plus a local element raised through what is known as the council tax precept. Most recently the amount received from the government has been around £165 million with the remainder coming from council tax.
So what have we, the local tax payers, been getting for our money? Well, I would argue not a great deal in all honesty as service levels have fallen dramatically since 2010. That date is critical because it coincides with the election of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition and the so called period of austerity. When Mrs Bourne was first elected she claimed that coming from the world of business, she could see where savings in policing in Sussex could be made. She therefore threw herself behind Conservative government policy and was an overt supporter of Theresa May even being seen to hug the former Prime Minister as she left the stage at the Conservative party conference in 2018. Cynics might argue that there was a link between this support and the award of an OBE?! During the period 2010 – 2018 Sussex Police lost 700 police officers, a fifth of its overall strength. This position was reflected similarly nationally.
So what has our PCC achieved in her 7.5 years in office? Well, she has presided over the greatest decline in service provision that Sussex Police has ever seen. Call handling in relation to the 101 number has been simply appalling with people having to wait an age to receive a reply. This has often been followed up with a failure by the police to attend and deal with incidents reported including instances of household burglary and vehicle crime. In the meantime, our PCC has been busy pursuing her own agenda in relation to national policing priorities involving modern day slavery and stalking. The irony regarding the latter subject is that Sussex Police’s performance in regard to protecting vulnerable people has been poor and has been commented upon nationally through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS). Who can forget the case of Shana Grice and there have been a number of others. Their most recent report, February 2020, still shows Sussex need to make considerable improvements.
What the PCC is very good at however is securing publicity for her so called good deeds. She is regularly featured in local news outlets as well as TV and radio. These instances often involve circumstances that should be the province of senior police officers as they involve operational policing matters which her role determines she should not have any part in. However, these opportunities provide her with an ideal political platform. This is also the case as regards hers and the chief constable’s regular use of so called “virtue signaling” and supporting issues regarding so called hate incidents to the detriment of other more fundamental policing issues. Does this impress us when policing is failing? Probably not I would suspect.
Her messaging is often totally unreliable as well as her figures. In saying this, I would urge readers to remember the old adage of, “lies, damn lies and statistics!” She continues to state that by 2022, Sussex Police will have an “additional 350 police officers and 100 PCSOs”. However, due to retirements and resignations, the net overall gain in terms of officer numbers since recruitment began in earnest in 2018 has been just over 100. By my reckoning therefore it will take 14 years to get Sussex back to the numbers it had in 2010. Also, why does she push for the recruitment of PCSOs? No other forces are and certainly not our neighbours in Kent. PCSOs do not possess the same powers as police officers and are at best a uniformed presence with the greatest of respect to them as individuals.
She also places great emphasis on her polls and focus groups which she uses to justify many of her decisions as well as council tax precept increases. However, these are only open to small numbers in the case of the polls and a selected audience as regards her focus groups. This is hardly representative of the Sussex public I would argue. This fact was acknowledged by the Sussex Crime Panel which oversees the PCC when I wrote to them complaining about this.
There is a lack of confidence both within as well as outside of Sussex Police. I have this at first hand from serving officers and staff as well as reading messages on public forums. In conclusion therefore, I would urge you to think carefully and to use your vote wisely when the PCC elections arrive.
Image Credits: David McHugh , Katy Bourne http://www.katybourne.com/wp-content/uploads/Katy-Bourne-PCC-2016-newspaper.pdf.