Report urges Home Secretary to Reform Police Accountability

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Police accountability is paralysed by “ineffective and impotent” Police and Crime Panels (PCPs) that are powerless to hold Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to account, new research reveals.

The findings, reported exclusively in The Times, come as six of the nation’s forces have been hit with special measures by regulators, the Met has been rocked by a series of controversies, and when the Home Office conducts Part 2 of the Police and Crime Commissioner Review.

Dr Simon Cooper of Essex Law School, has found that PCPs, introduced as part of flagship Conservative reforms in 2011 are “toothless”, leaving police accountability, for the first time in history, largely dependent on the one-to-one relationships between Chief Constables and elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

As part of the study, Dr Cooper gained unprecedented access to senior policing figures including someone directly involved in introducing the current accountability model.

In his report, which will be published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Dr Cooper urges Home Secretary Suella Braverman to launch an urgent review to “safeguard the accountability and governance of policing.”

He also recommends the introduction of binding contracts between PCCs and Chief Constables after finding the current structure is “unbalanced, untested and risky.”

‘Police Relational Accountabilities: The Paralysis of Police Accountability?’ is the result of a qualitative study based on 17 interviews with Chief Constables, PCCs and Chairs of PCPs across five police force areas as well as one person directly involved in introducing the current system and one of the most senior figures in policing at a national level.

Anonymous 90-minute interviews reveal an overwhelming view that PCPs, which are meant to support, scrutinise and maintain a regular ‘check and balance’ on PCCs, are “entirely impotent and ineffective” according to the report.

One PCC stated that “PCCs aren’t concerned or fearful of their PCP” with another saying “my mandate is from the people who elected me so sod the PCP.” Even PCP Chairs, whose only sanctioning power is to publicly shame a PCC, said “we are toothless” and “PCPs can’t do anything, there are no checks and balances at all.”

“The result is that for the first time in the history of modern policing, the accountability and governance of policing is rendered subject to the one-to-one relationship between a PCC and their Chief Constable. A relationship that could be fractious, dysfunctional, volatile or overly cosy,” explained Dr Cooper.

That risk is backed up by the interviews with one Chief Constable saying “I know some of my colleagues have awful relationships with their PCCs”. One of the most senior people in policing at a national level said that accountability rests “not just on the relationship but also on the calibre, experience and wisdom of the person elected as PCC and believe you me that varies enormously.”

Dr Cooper said: “The case of Cressida Dick, who one report has found was ‘constructively dismissed’ by her PCC, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, demonstrates what can happen when the relationship between a Chief Constable and their PCC breaks down, and reported wider problems in The Met Police show why an effective structure of police accountability is so vital.

“As laid out by one of the Chief Constables I interviewed, the current model for police accountability rests too heavily on a series of ‘ifs’: if the PCP is effective, if the PCC has principles and experience, if the Chief Constable is of the right character then it can be effective but this is not an effective or sustainable model for holding a modern police force to account.”

Dr Cooper’s previous work was cited by the House of Commons in its 2021 report on Police and Crime Commissioners and previous recommendations made by him were adopted by the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales in 2022.

This story was first published on the University of Essex’s news webpages and is reproduced on the ELR Blog with permission and thanks.

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