Police and Crime Commissioners are an undemocratic Tory policy designed to politicise the police at the expense of the working class, argues Anita de Klerk
On 15th November, those of us outside London are expected to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for our local area. The information on the role of these new commissioners is sketchy at best, but it’s not a shambles, as Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper suggested on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last Sunday. It’s not by accident, but by design. These commissioners represent a planned and strategic attack on the working class which was first presented in the Conservative manifesto prior to the elections in 2010.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) was rushed through the House of Lords in 2010 with no opposition from the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats. It effectively removes policing from public control by placing it firmly in the hands of 41 ‘elected officials’ who are set to earn up to £100,000 a year each. While operational policies, including day-to-day running of the police, will remain the responsibility of the senior police officer, these commissioners will be overseeing their police force’s budget and persuading, bargaining, coaxing, negotiating, alliance building and deal broking with the private sector to maximise external resources in delivering public order.
Each candidate for these lucrative positions have their manifestos and pledges online only, meaning that it’s hard to come by for a staggering 20% of England and Wales’ population who do not have access to the internet in their homes. These 20% represent the poorest and most disenfranchised members of our society, whose opinion appears not to count or matter.
The election of Police Commissioners is presented as a shake-up, to get rid of bureaucracy, release front line policing back to the streets, and increase accountability. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, told the Police Federation in May that the police simply have to bear their share of the cuts and stop ‘pretending that the police are being picked on.’ Recent media reports about the failure of police accountability are no coincidence, as the government seeks to drum up public support for the policy. What these reports conceal is how the act remoulds the police force through privatisation and politicisation to an extent never before seen.
Politicisation and privatisation
The inauguration of the police force under the Metropolitan Police Act (1829) was due, in the main, to the pattern of class division and conflict arising from the capitalist industrialisation and urbanisation of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The motive for the formation of the ‘new’ police was the maintenance of order required by the capitalist class, with the control of crime, riot, political dissidence and public morality being facets of the overall mission.
Throughout their history, however, the police have been accountable to public law. Under the new Police Commissioners, policing reform and crime control will become increasingly politicised and privatised. Candidates for the position of Police and Crime Commissioner are to stand independently of their political parties, but may still be lead by their political views. However, of the 186 total candidates who are standing, only 28% are independent. Labour and the Conservatives are both standing a candidate in every area, the most prominent of whom is Lord Prescott who has unashamedly campaigned for the position as a Labour Peer.
The privatisation of policing is already evident. In April, uniformed G4S civilian employees started working in the Lincolnshire Police strategic partnership, adorning the new G4S and Lincolnshire Police epaulettes. The G4S civilians will be running police custody units, identification units, force control rooms as well as the new ‘Town Enquiry Officer’. According to the G4S policing solutions recruitment website, other positions being recruited for are child protection investigators, civilian investigators, and major crime investigators; a role which is described as ‘exceptionally important […] within the police service and […] suited to both retiring police officers and civilians alike [...] investigating crimes such as murder and rape.’
Lincolnshire constabulary is not alone. It was announced in the Guardian that an American contractor who assisted in the build of the prison camp on Guantanamo Bay is bidding, alongside G4S, for the £1.5bn privatisation contract to run policing services in the West Midlands and Surrey.
Opposition inside and out
The government’s plans for the police have not been without opposition from inside as well as outside the police force. The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, Tony Melville, resigned at the end of April over the proposed changes to police officers’ employment rights and the forth coming elections of the Police Crime Commissioners. Since Melville’s resignation other Chief Constables have followed.
The former Metropolitan Chief Constable, Lord Blair, has called for a total boycott of the elections, although the number of far-right candidates standing makes this a risky strategy. The President of the Police Superintendents’ Association, Derek Barnett, has called for greater public consultation over the moves to privatise the police, saying that police legitimacy stems from the consent of the public and that ‘it is only right, therefore, that the public should have a say in who they want to deliver operational policing services’ in protecting us from crime.
The argument that crime is out of control and the need for greater police accountability is bogus. Since the mid 1990s, recorded crime has been steadily on the decline, with increases in property and acquisitive crime only evident as unemployment and cuts have started to bite. Let us not forget that we did not vote for this government and therefore have not voted for this policy. It is time for greater understanding of the concerns of the police force. It’s not about protecting police jobs, but protecting the working class from the police ‘reform’ being imposed by this government.
Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.