Skip to main content
Criminal Justice

Police and Crime Commissioners – the quiet success story

Dr Rick Muir, Director of the Police Foundation, says PCCs have made good progress over the last four years, but maybe now is the time to look at how to ‘improve the model’.

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are here to stay.  The new Prime Minister Theresa May was responsible for their introduction in November 2012 and views them as an important part of her legacy as Home Secretary.  The Labour Party has now said that it supports them.  Even if any new government did want to change the model, the next wave of PCCs will be elected on the day that has been set by Parliament for the next General Election in May 2020.  Even critics of PCCs recognise that the big question is how to improve the model rather than go back to the pre-2012 position.

One important reason for the consolidation of the PCC model is that the sky has not fallen in. There is no evidence that PCCs are systematically ‘politicising policing’, which was the great fear prior to their introduction.  However, I want to argue not just that PCCs have ‘done no harm’, but rather that they have been a quiet success story.

First, they have considerably strengthened the accountability of the police service to the public. It is my view that the old police authorities lacked the focus and legitimacy to hold chief officers’ ‘feet to the fire’.  Although there is no clear way of measuring the distribution of power in the police service, it is clear to me that the introduction of a new ‘big beast’ into the local policing jungle has made chief constables much more accountable than they once were.  Second, they have increased public engagement. It was said at the time of the old police authorities that one received as little as a letter a week from members of the public. Any PCC will tell you that their correspondence is of a different order of magnitude.

As a number of the blogs published on the Police Foundation website written by PCCs demonstrate (see links below), having a single point of contact and a directly elected politician with a powerful public voice has increased public participation in policing debates that used to happen behind closed doors.

Third, PCCs have unlocked innovation in policing policy.  Having a full time public official focused on public safety, armed with commissioning budgets and considerable ‘soft power’, has led to new ways of doing things.  It is this topic which is explored in more detail in the ‘Reducing crime through innovation: the role of PCCs’ briefing, where we seek to understand the scope and drivers of innovation since 2012, as well as the challenges that remain.

And PCCs do face considerable challenges.  Demand on the police has changed considerably since the PCC model was developed, with a fall in traditional volume crime and the rise in reported ‘high harm’ offences, often committed in private spaces and increasingly enabled via the internet.  This requires a major re-think about policing priorities and operating models.  Moreover, the increased complexity of police work means there is a pressing need for the connectivity – between the police locally and other public services – and between police forces as a network to deal with serious crime and deliver specialist capabilities.  That will require further changes to both local and national governance, as well as new models of delivery.  We hope that the discussion in the briefing will help illuminate some of the ways in which these challenges might be met.

Read guest blogs by five Police and Crime Commissioners on the Police Foundation website:

  1. Stop and Search- getting it right, Paddy Tipping, Notts PCC
  2. Sexual assault and the night time economy – small ideas make a difference, Vera Baird, Northumbria PCC
  3. Reducing crime through innovation: the role of PCCs, Jane Kennedy, Merseyside PCC
  4. How can PCCs better support innovative working within their communities?, Angus Macpherson, PCC for Wiltshire & Swindon
  5. Driving positive change – the PCC role is about more than holding the police to account, Katy Bourne, PCC for Sussex