18 September 2012

Stop and Search Your PCC - Labour candidates

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In the final of a series of longer articles addressing the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections, Elena Papamichael analyses some of the issues and trends playing out among Labour Police and Crime Commissioner candidates.

​Labour initially opposed the upcoming election for PCCs across England and Wales proposed by the coalition government. However, now that the elections are approaching Labour has selected candidates for all 41 police forces, who were announced well ahead of the elections. They include some high profile contenders such as: Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, ex-minister Jane Kennedy, former solicitor general Vera Baird and MP Alun Michael.

Labour perceives that whoever is elected as a PCC will have considerable power and responsibility-the newly elected PCCs will have power over the entire police budget and will be responsible for setting policing targets and priorities- and is using this opportunity to gain local support that will translate into votes in the next general election.

The main focus of the election for Labour appears to be the fight against the cuts to policing, and against the proposed privatisation of the police by the coalition government.  Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party,has announced that labour PCC candidates will be campaigning on resisting cuts and privatisation, increasing accountability and improving trust within communities for policing.

The rapid and wide scale implementation of privatisation of the police force by the coalition government means that not only will back office functions become privatised but many police core functions too, such as like responding to 999 calls, collection of evidence, detention of suspects, collection of DNA and fingerprints may also be contracted out to corporations. This may impact on accountability within the police, as private employees of contracted work are not answerable in the same way that state employees are, leaving these services vulnerable to abuse.

Although two prominent women are running as Labour candidates in the PCC election, out of the 130 confirmed candidates across the political parties and independents, over 80% are men, and Home secretary and equalities minister Theresa May has been criticized for failing to encourage women to apply for the post. Vera Baird QC, the Labour candidate for Northumbria said, “May has depicted it as suitable for an ex-colonel or ex-senior police, a male stereotype since few of either are women,” Baird says. “It is a near inevitability of a phalanx of stale, male and pale.”

The profile of Labour candidates includes people from business and charity sectors, former senior police officers and five ex Labour ministers, which Theresa May has attacked saying, “I am not sure an awful lot of people out there are really into wanting to vote for former members of parliament to run anything.”

As well as fighting privatization and cuts to the policing budget and related services, which includes mental health care and other crime preventative services, Labour echoes many independent candidate campaign pledges to take a hard line on crime.  Ed Miliband said in a speech, “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime is still Labour’s approach”

Young people and ethnic minorities are both more likely to become victims of crime, and to encounter the criminal justice system, and in light of the August 2011 riots hatred for the police, the disproportionate and racist use of stop and search were sited as a significant cause of the disturbances. Thus, there appears to be a considerable gap in the rhetoric regarding the PCC elections addressing public perception of and relations with the police, particularly that of young people, and people from ethnic minority communities. Similarly, with over 50 police cases of alleged racism within the police force, with over 20 officers currently under investigation, it is significant that fighting crime appears more prominently in Labour’s PCC campaign than engaging with local communities and young people, and tackling the severe lack of accountability within the force. This said, Labour’s promise to fight cuts to policing and related services and “work within local communities to bring about the change people want” would go some way to promote accountability of the police.

The worry with elected PCCs is that public and political pressure may lead Commissioners to focus on popular policing policies and deprive issues that effect more marginalized communities from funding and support. This may be especially true for political candidates, who will be under pressure from their party to follow both public opinion and party ideology.