We must rediscover the Peelian principles

My piece for Conservative Home published today.

The role of the police is changing and so is that of Police and Crime Commissioners. The police are expected to do more than ever, no longer just the thin blue line of law and order. The public, indeed other parts of the public sector, call on the police in times of crisis, because they expect them to deliver.

It is nearly seven years since the first elections for PCCs in England and Wales and the role, that for many was controversial, has evolved over that time. PCCs must also deliver for the public. One of the most notable changes of the role is that the “and crime” element of the title is growing, with a wider remit for PCCs in the criminal justice system. Initially just a convening role, it looks certain that the Ministry of Justice will continue to push more in the direction of directly-elected commissioners – even if the cash doesn’t follow the responsibility.

I am delighted to have been selected as the Conservative Party’s candidate for the Thames Valley in 2020. As the incumbent Deputy for the past two years, I have already been able to get to grips with the often insular world of policing and to develop my own vision for the future.

Key to that vision has to be raising the profile of PCCs. I would say reminding the public of the good that they can do, but reminding is the wrong word, most people have never been convinced in the first place. When the Coalition government introduced PCCs it did so against the will of the Lib Dems, conceding a poll in November and without first winning the argument for the need to change. The challenge is a big one, but no less important.

Having spent sixteen years in local government, seven as a council leader, I am well aware of how important policing and community safety is to our communities. Feeling safe in your own community and in your own home is one of the most fundamental things if we want, to deliver quality of life for the public.

PCCs are undoubtedly a force for good in delivering an effective and efficient police force that is responsive to the needs of the local community. Yet most people still aren’t sure what a PCC is for or why they need one. This must change. As the Party’s candidate for Thames Valley, that is my main focus over the next 18 months. In a time of turbulent politics, where the domestic agenda rarely makes the headlines, it is more important than ever that politicians demonstrate their worth by showing what can be achieved in our communities.

During the time I have been involved with the police, I have not met a single officer who does not see the need for the police to be scrutinised and held to account on behalf of the public; but they also deserve and expect to received the support of PCCs for the difficult and dangerous job they do. Every day our police officers put themselves at risk to protect the public and they welcome strong leadership and a clear vision.

If successful next May, my first Police and Crime Plan for the Thames Valley will be a Police and Criminal Justice Plan, emphasising that the remit of the PCC reaches beyond just the police. My plan will be to strengthen local policing, ensuring the police are visible to prevent crime and protect our communities. Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock on which everything else is built. This is particularly important in rural communities who can feel particularly vulnerable.

We must fight fraud and cyber crime and be prepared for the new threats the public face. There is much to be done in improving the criminal justice system, working with the CPS, courts, prison service and probation. We must fight serious organised crime, not just as a national priority, but because it is the cause of so much of the crime that affects our local communities. We need a better plan to tackle illegal encampments. This is a challenge that goes beyond law enforcement by the police, but it has a real impact on many people that cannot be ignored, as it cuts right to the core of public confidence in policing.

Police and Crime Commissioners need to engage with the public they serve to gain an understanding, a real understanding of the public’s concerns. There are many distractions in a time of reduced resources, and politicians and the police need to focus on the issues that really matter. An open and honest dialogue with residents about the challenges we face, the changing nature of crime, and a concentration on the core business of policing are all required.

Policing is a complex business these days but it is worth remembering those Peelian Principles set out in 1829. The police force exists “to prevent crime and disorder” the public rightly expect everything the police do to contribute to that objective.

PCCs can and are genuinely improving policing, community safety, and criminal justice across the country, but there is still a job of work to do in order to convey that message and demonstrate the value of directly elected accountability.