There has been a lot of talk about what this week's Police and Crime Commissioner elections will mean for people living up and down our country. We have heard from the police, the think tanks and politicians of all colours. All have their own views but it is vital that we do not forget those most important in all of this - the victims of crime.
I am a victim of crime. In 2007 my husband, Garry, was murdered by three teenagers after confronting them in front of our house. They were drunk and vandalised our car. For that he lost his life. But the problems in our community started long before that. The police were not as visible as they should have been and if you reported a crime they gave you a record number for criminal damage but never came out.
I would attend local meetings to discuss the problems on our streets but we never saw the chief constable, he never heard our concerns and for me that is key - it was essential that we spoke to the top man. If you are at the top you work for the people and speak to the people, but I never saw that. I believe police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will change all of that. They will be elected by local people to serve their community and they will be accountable to those electors. If they don't do the job properly then you can vote them out.
I am a huge supporter of the police but when we read reports about where policing has gone wrong, like at Hillsborough, the serious failings in Rotherham and the inappropriate relations with the press, it knocks the public's confidence in the service. The new commissioners will change this. They are the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime. They will work with the police to cut crime, give the public a voice at the highest level, and, most importantly, help to restore trust.
They will be an independent voice but, most importantly, PCCs will have a duty to listen to victims and champion their interests. It will be their job to make sure that all of the agencies who should be working together to cut crime, to support victims and make sure criminals are punished, are doing so. A joined-up partnership is essential in making sure this works, so whether it is the Crown Prosecution Service, the magistrates' courts, local health services or the police themselves, the commissioner will have the remit to bring all of these agencies together. So if you are being plagued by a noisy neighbour, the PCC will make sure that the police and local council work together to fix the problem.
Only through this multi-agency approach will victims get the support they need. I have seen it first hand - the lack of continuity. When you are upset, when you need something or someone to help you through, it is no help to be handed from one agency to the next only to have to explain yourself over and over again. So for the very first time, victims of crime will have a clear role in determining what the police should focus on and how. This is a massive step forward in helping the police and other services do their best for victims and put their experiences at the heart of how they deal with crime.
This also means putting an end to the bureaucracy holding back our police and stopping them from actually fighting crime - the top-down targets, the form filling, the men from Whitehall trying to set the direction rather than leaving it to those who know the local policing needs. The commissioners will change this. By setting police budgets to make sure that people are getting value for money from their police force, they will put an end to wasteful spending.
But it is important to remember that the majority of people on the street are not interested in police budgets or political bickering. They are fed up with anti-social behaviour, drunken gangs hanging on street corners, drug dealers, graffiti and violence. They want to feel safe on the streets. At the moment crime is falling - something we all welcome. But in some communities the fear and perception of crime is very high.
So I would say to PCCs that the public are not interested in the colour of the party you come from, they want to know that someone is on their side and looking after their interests. They want someone accountable and not someone who will use victims or communities as a strapline and then vanish only to appear when things are going well. We need to see someone when things get tough, when issues need to be resolved. The public need to know that they have a commissioner that they can go to.
I have to say that I did not know my chief constable until Garry was murdered in 2007. In 2012, I want to know who my police and crime commissioner is and I will be knocking on his or her door to make sure that they make the community safer and stick to their word. Policing has to be accountable and must have a level of governance. Elected police commissioners will help make sure this happens and that is why everyone should use their vote on Thursday.
Baroness Newlove of Warrington is a Conservative peer