Police and Crime Commissioners are hugely powerful and have direct and sole control over multi-million pound budgets. Those of us who have closely followed the implementation and election of PCCs know this, but still many of the public don’t understand exactly what this role is. Awareness is growing, in part due to intense media scrutiny and many offices are groaning under the weight of huge levels of correspondence, FOI requests and a genuine desire from the public to engage in decision making around policing.
There is also a backdrop of increased public concern about police behaviours: How intelligence gathering officers’ conduct themselves, phone hacking, public order tactics and increased roll out of Tasers. All of this in the wake of the lowest ever electoral turnout and heavy criticism of how the public were informed about candidates and the role of PCC prior to that turnout.
These issues combined raise questions of democratic legitimacy and this question should be turned into an engagement and scrutiny challenge for PCCs and the bodies that scrutinise their performance, Police and Crime Panels.
Recognising the unique challenges facing OPCCs we worked with the APCC (Association of Police & Crime Commissioners) to produce guidance for ‘digital democratic engagement’ which was published in December 2011. This guidance takes account of the fact that all PCCs have areas with far bigger electorates than MPs do and that to have a meaningful relationship with all communities that PCCs will need to harness digital as part of their overall engagement strategy.
Some OPCCs got off to a flying start, engaging and empowering the public, as well as setting up their own layers of scrutiny in addition to that provided by the Police and Crime Panel.
These are some of the reasons to take a proactive approach:-
- Publishing information proactively and sharing it on social media might actually decrease the office’s workload in responding to enquiries
- It is not enough to continue to act like a police authority staff team…the office has to adjust to working in a fast paced political environment
- Staff resources are tight so proactive communication and ‘listening’ saves resources and digital is a way of ‘showing who you have listened to’ as well as being more transparent
Police and Crime Panels are there to scrutinise the Police and Crime Commissioner and their decisions. Key issues that have been scrutinised or discussed to date have been around senior appointments, publication of financial data and relationships with the Chief Constable. The House of Commons Overview and Scrutiny Committee called a number of PCCs and PCPs in for questioning around these issues though an in-depth session in part there was a concern around how robust the scrutiny challenge locally is, with a further session due later this year.
Aspects of the role of Police and Crime Panels that were examined:-
- Public access to meetings
- Clarity over role to scrutinise
- Access to legal advice
In some areas, there is no digital engagement direct from OPCC or PCP with the public, and in some this vacuum is being filled by armchair scrutineers. The problem with this situation is that nobody has provided them with any mandate to represent them and, additionally they may be reporting in a highly biased manner and yet, there is no alternative digital presence for the public to view. There are many ways of taking a proactive approach digitally which provides increased confidence and engagement.
Communities will be interested in how well policing is scrutinised, but not everyone is able to get directly involved. How do you ensure they see ‘scrutiny done’? Some practical examples we have seen are:-
- Live tweeting public engagement events and the Q&A
- Webcasting management meetings with the Chief Constable
- Direct public Q&A sessions online using various tools – CoverItLive, Twitter, Facebook
- Web publication of the transcripts of public meetings
- Police and Crime Panels webcast (sometimes on a one-off basis, sometimes on a regular basis)
Stop press –
Centre for Public Scrutiny and LGA are providing Police and Crime Panels with optional support of 10 days to help them carry out this important function – find out more here.
See Jon Harvey’s article in the Guardian on the role of PCPs (Police and Crime Panels)
Credit to Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner who today (26th July 2013) webcast the Performance and Accountability meeting she holds with the Chief Constable.
Courtesy of Emma Daniel at Huxley06