In the Media

Look at Boris Johnson to see the benefits of local police commissioners

PUBLISHED June 14, 2012

Two years ago, policing was something that happened to a community. The priorities were set by Whitehall and the orders were faithfully followed by police forces - once they'd fought their way through the accompanying paperwork. The public? Well, they didn't really have much of a say.

Today, that's all changing. We've scrapped the central targets and slashed police paperwork, freeing the equivalent of 2,100 police officers to get back on the streets. We've returned discretion to police officers, letting them make more decisions about charging criminals. And we've begun to bring real local accountability to policing: crime maps allow people to find out about crimes in their area, beat meetings give people the chance to question local officers, and we are compelling the authorities to take action against anti-social behaviour when local people complain.

But our most important change is the introduction of directly-elected police and crime commissioners with real responsibility - and real power - over local policing.

The first elections for police and crime commissioners will take place on November 15 throughout England and Wales, outside London. The candidates who win will lead the fight against crime in their communities. They will have the power to appoint the chief constable and, if necessary, to dismiss them. Commissioners will set the policing plan for their force area. They will then hold chief constables to account for delivering that plan and cutting crime.

The commissioners will also have an important informal role. Their mandate from the public will allow them to get things done. If the local council isn't working with the police to tackle noisy neighbours, the commissioner will bring them together. If local health services aren't working with the police to tackle offending by drug addicts, the commissioner will make sure they do.

Commissioners will be responsible, too, for setting police budgets, so they will want to squeeze every penny of value out of police spending. The Government is doing what it can, but with savings to be made in procurement, IT and back office functions, commissioners will have a role in driving down costs at local level. With police spending running at £14 billion a year, the public will demand it.

So who will fill these important posts? Labour might have opposed police and crime commissioners, but they have no shortage of MPs, former ministers and even a former deputy prime minister coming forward to stand. Conservative candidates include Sir Clive Loader, a former air chief marshal, and other applicants include Jan Berry, the former Police Federation chairman. We hope more independent candidates will come forward, following Simon Weston, the inspirational Falklands veteran, who plans to stand in South Wales. Not every candidate will be a household name, but what matters is that, once elected, commissioners will be known as the people responsible for the performance of local police forces.

If you want to see the benefits of having a directly elected local figure in charge of policing, then you just need to look to London. Boris Johnson has put more police on the streets, increased police visibility and introduced innovative policies such as the new sobriety scheme. Boris also shows how an elected individual can stand up for a community's interests: he might have been elected mayor as a Conservative, but that hasn't stopped him from telling us when he disagrees with the Government - and we can expect the same of police and crime commissioners.

But the most important thing that any police and crime commissioner will need to do is cut crime. Working with the police, they will know how to do that better than any bureaucrat in Whitehall. They will understand their communities, what works and what people want. So if you care about cutting crime, keeping your community safe and improving your police force then I urge you to use your vote this November.

Theresa May is Home Secretary