Thursday November 15th 2012. Apart from a small number of people, most likely working within politics, policing or criminal justice, that date means little. In actuality, the inaugural elections of police and crime commissioners is one of the most impactful dates on modern policing since the dawn of the service.
CoPaCC is an independent organisation established shortly after the first Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in November 2012 to monitor policing governance in England and Wales.
CoPaCC’s purpose is to monitor and encourage high standards of police governance.
Since those PCC elections, CoPaCC has published a regular, subscriber-only Policing Report with analysis of PCC activity as well as strategic level policing developments.
CoPaCC, using this considerable relevant experience, launched PolicingInsight.com, an online magazine and weekly newsletter, providing analysis and insight on policing governance, policy, politics and legislation.
This online magazine improves access to, and complements, the wealth of historical and new material already covered in our CoPaCC Policing Reports, whilst broadening the range and depth of insight and analysis from guest contributors and prominent journalists with expertise in the police sector.
To find out more about how you can contribute to the CoPaCC Policing Reports email [email protected],org.uk
None of the above
The fact that the elections heralded the biggest change in policing governance in a generation did little to improve their democratic outcome. A paltry 15.1% of the electorate cast its vote, a turnout rate widely reported as being the lowest in peacetime history.
Across England and Wales, the relative success of independent candidates was the main talking point. This feat is one that may never be replicated.
Another notable feature of the elections was the number of spoilt ballots. 2.8% of the first preference votes cast in the 2012 PCC elections were rejected, as opposed to 0.3% of the votes at each of the last three general elections and an average figure of around 1.0% for local government elections.
Although some of these ballots would have been incorrect due to voters not fully understanding the supplementary voting system, with #PCCspoil trending on Twitter and a Tumblr account set up to share the more creative examples of spoilt ballot papers, it was eminently clear that there was a sizeable backlash against politicising the police in general, and the concept of PCCs in particular.
Towards May 2016
There are a number of learning points from the first elections and we do not propose to recycle them here. However it is crucially important that policymakers and politicians do not assume that improved processes and better availability of information will in of themselves be enough to increase turnout – though holding the elections in May (rather than November), and at the same time as some local government elections, should do so.
At CoPaCC we strongly support informed democratic debate, and note the Electoral Commission report which found that “the overriding lesson is that the Government cannot assume holding an election is enough on its own to inspire participation. People have to know what they are voting for, and understand what different candidates might offer, in order to participate.”
Whilst the electorate is likely to be significantly better informed than in November 2012, the national media coverage of PCCs has been negative. This is not unique to PCCs as the coverage for many other high profile public positions are similar, and indeed this most likely the media reflecting public opinion rather than seeking to sway it. This view is supported by Ipsos MORI polling over the past decade which shows low levels of trust in politicians (18% trust to tell the truth) as opposed to moderate levels of trust in the police (62% trust to tell the truth). The Committee on Standards in Public Life also recently published relevant market research, as part of their “Tone from the top: leadership, ethics and accountability in policing” report: amongst a wealth of PCC-related analysis, more respondents (41%) said they were not interested in the work of PCCs than said they were interested (29%).
Polling data aside, anyone wishing to stand for the 2016 PCC elections will need to not only create a compelling narrative for why voters should put a cross next to their name, but also convince those people who might not otherwise vote due to a lack of information or a more fundamental disagreement with the position itself.
Prospective candidates will maximise their chances of success by building relationships with their electorate, engaging early and often, listening to and understanding their concerns and not parachuting in two or three months before polling day and declaring what needs to be done. A further challenge for some sitting PCCs is that, although they are directly accountable to voters through the ballot box, voters will very often not feel that they are a truly local representative in the same way as a local councillor or MP.
These issues can and must be overcome in order to build stronger and more productive relationships between PCCs and the people they represent.
Over the next several months, in the run up to May 2016, CoPaCC plans to provide a range of support for declared and potential PCC candidates, as well as for policing commentators and interested members of the public, in order to ensure that all have access to the best possible information, analysis and opinion about key policing and crime issues. This support will be delivered online as well as face to face. We will also provide – through our CoPaCC Thematics and other material – a library of independent, objective and evidence-based information on how well PCCs have performed to date.
Our goal is to support the democratic process by providing for a better informed debate. We firmly believe that everyone will benefit as a result, whatever the ultimate outcome at the polls next year. Without the benefit of an established support network, many prospective candidates might be unable to mount an effective campaign that gets to the heart of the issues affecting our communities. Without the benefit of independent, objective, evidence-based analysis, commentators and electors will be less well informed on how PCCs have so far performed.
CoPaCC will be doing its utmost over the coming ten months to ensure that all those participating in, or commentating on, the PCC elections in May 2016 are well informed.
Do get in touch, by emailing [email protected], if you would like to learn more.