10 September 2012

Stop and Search Your PCC - Independent Candidates

StopWatch's avatar

StopWatch examines the independent candidates for the upcoming PCC elections.

​On 15th November 2012  for the first time Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) elections will be held all over England and Wales . So far 41 independent candidates have announced that they plan to stand, despite the perceived disadvantages for those running who are not affiliated to a party. Amongst the independent candidates, ex-police officers and ex-army officers are very well represented, as are ex-councilors. In terms of policies, on the whole the independent candidates have taken a very ‘anti-politics’ and ‘anti-politician’ line, and priorities include taking a tough stance on crime and increasing efficiency of the force, with some contenders mentioning increasing the accountability of the police in their pledges.

Disadvantages independent candidates face

There is a danger that if elections are low-profile, the quality of candidates, suffers,  and Nick Herbert, currentMinister of State for Police and Criminal Justice has encouraged independents to stand in these elections, so that there is a range of political and non-political posts.  Given that the demographics of the candidates are largely, white, male and middle aged, mainly from ex-police and retired police or military backgrounds, diversity of representation is potentially a concern.

However, the conditions for entering into the elections, as well as the financial restraints placed upon independent candidates mean that many potential hopefuls are beaten at the first hurdle by not being able to raise the necessary capital to enter, and publicize themselves within the community. The Universities’ Police Science Institute said candidates standing independently would struggle to get their voices heard because of “significant restrictions” on election publicity imposed by the Government. The Home Office will not fund a mail shot for individual candidates, meaning that on top of the £5000 required by each candidate to submit upon entry into the election, independent candidates will also have to personally fund up to £75,000 to send campaign information out to prospective voters ahead of the election. This helps to explain some of the lack of diversity amongst the independent candidates, and also how several business men and millionaires have made it onto the polling card.

Independent candidates feel strongly about keeping the force apolitical

Despite several MPs on the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee’s attempts to block ex-policeman who have retired after 2008 from entering into this round of elections, the vast majority of candidates so far are ex-policemen and policewomen, though far less of the latter, who are either retired or resigning from their current post in order to run for upcoming election. Many of these held senior positions, and were or are currently members of their local Police Authority and believe that their policing experience makes them ideal candidates. Mick Thwaites, a former superintendent from Essex says “I think what the public want is fairly simple, they want them (the police) to turn-up, deal with the problem and support the victim. It is currently overcomplicated unnecessarily”.  However, this raises two issues: are there potential issues about a  retired senior officers ability to be an effective monitor of former colleagues? And could potential conflicts of interest hinder the efficacy of the role designed to increase democracy and responsibility within the force?

For many of these candidates, the motivation for running in the PCC elections appears to be a drive to keep the police force apolitical. For example, John Davies, running for Dyfed-Powys PCC says ‘The most important things are people and policing, not party politics’. Antonio Verderame, a retired businessman running in Leicestershire believes, “The Police must be dedicated to the service of the public, and not become the tools of politicians or civil servants.” Mistrust of politicians and their involvement with the police is a recurring theme.Martyn Underhill, a former superintendent standing for Dorset PCC said “Look at how the Government has dealt with the fuel strike, poor advice, garages shutting, chaos, do you really want a politician running our police?” These sentiments may reflect genuine fear for the loss of independence for the police that the assignment of PCC to a politician might cause, or be a tactical attempt by independent candidates to undermine their more powerful opponents.

Who else is running, and why?

Some independent candidates believe that their lack of association to a party will guarantee accountability to the people in a way that politicians will not be able to, such as Suleman Nagdi, a former magistrate also running in Leicestershire, “The person who is elected [PCC] should be accountable to the people and not to political parties‟ Mr Nagdi worked with police on STEPSS (Strategies for Effective Stop and Search) that identified and implemented strategies to improve police and minority community relations through supporting more accountable and effective use of police powers. This may indicate that police accountability will be a feature of the debate in Leicestershire.  Kent PCC hopeful Ken Little’s manifesto includes a pledge to overhaul the complaints procedure against police to increase public confidence and he says “Kent Police has a difficult job but the public expects full transparency, full information and disclosure and accountability.”

Two candidates were urged to run in the upcoming elections due to their own experiences of miscarriages of justice while working as police officers. Ex-police officer Fran Croucher is an example of this, running in the Kent elections. Ms Croucher was accused and cleared of wasting police time when they falsely alleged that she had made up a claim that she had been beaten up.  ““Police complaints [are] not being dealt with effectively and [there is a] need for a police commissioner to hold Kent Police to account in this area. SimilarlySultan Alam, faced police racism during his years in the force and was falsely imprisoned and subsequently awarded compensation, and is considering running for Cleveland, “if I was to stand I would bring a fresh input, fresh thought and an independent view’ These candidates cite their experience of discrimination and a lack of accountability within the police force as motivation for standing as PCC in their areas in the hope that they could help the police become more answerable to complaints made against them.

Several candidates have focussed on efficiency and a “tough on crime” stance.   Martin Surl, a former Senior Police Officer standing for Gloucestershire PCC says ‘I believe the first priority of the new police commissioner must be to support the Constabulary and others to reduce crime and criminality’.

Kent PCC hopefuls appear to have a particular focus tackling crime and improving efficiency. Thanet Councillor Ian Driver says “I will be standing on a progressive platform calling for the reform of old fashioned and unworkable drugs and prostitution laws which will save billions in police funding which can be re-invested into community policing and cracking down on crime and disorder,” and “I also want to Kent Police to take a much tougher stance on domestic abuse, hate crime and dangerous driving.” Buy-to-let millionaire Fergus Wilson says he has the financial skills to help run Kent Police and that in difficult economic times the main aim of the police commissioner should be to create a cost effective police force. In the same vein Dai Liyanage, another Kent independent candidate and former councillor claims that he would ‘put more officers on the streets by streamlining administration and using civilians for backroom jobs’.

Ann Barnes the only female independent candidate for Kent PCC also wants to see Kent Police crackdown on criminals, saying she would ‘keep a relentless focus on cutting crime and catching criminals’. However, she is the only independent candidate so far to speak out against the privatisation of the police force, which would mean a loss of accountability within the force, as services are outsourced to private companies, thus alleviating the onus on the government to provide an answerable force and service, “I… [have] a credible chance of beating the major parties and keeping party politics out of our police and stopping the swing to G4S style privatisation”.

At the moment the independent candidates appear to see their priorities as primarily keeping the police force separate from politics, then being tough on crime, increasing efficiency, and improving accountability and service. In general, improving and restoring their communities’ trust in the police has not yet been a main focus of independent candidates at this stage.