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The farce of the £85,000-a-year Police Commissioner

WHEN the government announced plans to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012 the country collectively groaned. With Bobbies disappearing from their beats faster than you can say ‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, the prospect of yet another management tier seemed utterly pointless. Behind closed doors, the concept was no more popular. Chief Constables, used to running their own ships, bristled at what was effectively a demotion, and the rank and file muttered about there being too many chiefs and not enough Indians. At least they would have done, had they not worried about being labelled as racist.

But the government pressed on, and some people began to wonder if perhaps they might be proved wrong: perhaps the appointment of an external commissioner to hold chief officers to account would be a good thing.

A variety of candidates put themselves forward for this most senior job in policing, motivated by politics, by personal ideals, and – presumably – by the £85,000 salary. The turnout to vote was embarrassingly low – just 15% – and in some forces the new Police and Crime Commissioners were chosen by less than 5% of the area’s electorate. Hardly the people’s choice.

It all went a bit quiet on the PCC front after that. The occasional press conference; a song and dance about supposed crime reduction; a news splash about how many people they’d employed; but otherwise it was as though they had never been elected. Just what did the Police and Crime Commissioners actually do?

Presumably that was the motivation behind Kent’s PCC Ann Barnes’ decision to star in a Channel 4 documentary entitled Meet The Commissioner: a decision that went spectacularly wrong for Ms Barnes, and for Kent Police. Four months’ filming resulted in an hour of car-crash TV akin to popular mockumentaries such as Twenty Twelve, The Office and Come Fly with Me. Cringeworthy moments included Ann worrying about her nail varnish; PCC team members having to look up their own job titles; and Ann’s answer to questions about which offences Kent Police prioritises (“I’ve no idea”).

With almost tangible glee the camera panned around the room during meetings chaired by Ann, catching yawns, rolled eyes, and out-and-out disdain from members of Kent Police. The overall impression: here is a woman who knows nothing about policing; nothing about leadership; nothing about her own job.

When the laughs were over, it left a nasty taste in one’s mouth. Is this the reality of our Police and Crime Commissioners? Or a grossly unfair hatchet job from Channel 4? Either way it’s stirred up a storm that won’t go away in a hurry. The Commissioners might well be holding the police to account, but perhaps it’s time to find out how well they’re doing it.

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Clare Mackintosh

Written by Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at www.claremackintosh.com/blog

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