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Police commissioners: spoil the vote

Richard North, 15/11/2012  


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Watching briefly the TV news last night, I saw a vox pop on the police commissioner elections. Interestingly, the first lady to speak said she would spoil her paper, something which I had determined to do and which many people have told me they will do.

Newspapers are clearly catching that mood, the loss-making Guardian thus telling us that "apathy is the expected response from 40 million voters".

Actually, you can always trust the Guardian to get it wrong. This is not so much "apathy" as indifference – a slightly different thing. Elected police commissioners are not the answer to whatever problems are besetting the police, and simply reflect politicians' love affair with elections and their misplaced belief that they necessarily impart democracy.

Speaking of my own force in West Yorkshire, I am not convinced that any amount of tinkering is going to improve an operation which is required to service 2.2 million people spread over nearly 800 square miles, headquartered in Wakefield, a city nearly twenty miles away from us by road.

In this context, Bradford once had its own local police force, whence policing priorities were determined by the people of Bradford, represented by their councillors, and it was the local people who paid the bills. Supposedly local policing from a bunker near the city centre, with priorities dictated an elected commissioner, isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference to us.

What we actually need is much smaller police forces, on the back of a two-tier structure. Very few countries have a one-tier operation, and for very good reason. They don't work very well. We need our own city police, with a national police force to deal with serious crime, security and the like – and to keep an eye on the locals, rooting out the all too prevalent corruption.

That itself would be a major improvement because the biggest failing is the lack of an independent complaints system. If you complain about the police, unless it is a major issue, they investigate the complaint themselves. If you don't accept the findings, you are entitled to a review, which is carried out by the same officers who investigated the original complaint.

When all else fails – which it does most times – you can then go to the independent Police Complaints Commission, which will ask the local police force to investigate itself. In effect, there is no point in complaining. The force knows it can get away with rubbish service because there is no outsider looking in.

All I can see of this current idea is more of the same, with still more useless mouths to feed, a ridiculously wasteful exercise that will achieve nothing at all at best and, possibly, make things considerably worse.

Hence, later today I will wander down to the polling station and spoil my vote. It is the only sensible thing to do for something I didn't ask for, don't want and resent having to pay for.

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