There should be a cooling-off period of four years if a former senior police officer decides to stand as a Police and Crime Commissioner in the same area in which they have served, says a report by the Home Affairs Committee. The Committee recommends that the restriction should apply to Chief Constables, Deputy Chief Constables, Assistant Chief Constables and equivalent ranks. Four years is one term for a Police and Crime Commissioner.
The Government proposes to introduce directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners at the level of every area-based police force in England and Wales, with the exception of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police. They would replace Police Authorities, which would be abolished. Police and Crime Commissioners would be responsible for holding Chief Constables to account. The first elections are scheduled for May 2012.
The Committee believes that the restriction on senior officers standing is necessary because otherwise they could be in the position of scrutinising decisions they had made while still in office.
The Committee also recommends:
- There is a need for greater clarity on what is meant by operational independence. The Government has said that operational independence is a fundamental principle of British policing that it will protect when Police and Crime Commissioners are introduced. The Committee notes that there is currently no statutory definition of operational independence. It emphasises the importance of police independence in relation to detection, law enforcement and the power to arrest. However, it recommends that the concept of operational responsibility in relation to broader performance should be defined in a written memorandum of understanding between the Home Secretary, Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners.
- The Police and Crime Panels proposed by the Government as an important part of the checks and balances on Police and Crime Commissioners should be comprised primarily of elected representatives from Councils in the force area, but also of a significantly smaller number of independent members. The Committee sees merit in using Police and Crime Panels as a way of providing advice to Police and Crime Commissioners before final decisions are made, rather than setting them up as separate scrutiny bodies, which it does not believe would be a good use of public money.
- Police and Crime Commissioners should be responsible for the budget, staff, estate and other assets in their force area. They should have the same power to appoint and dismiss senior police officers that is currently held by Police Authorities.
Members of the Committee hold widely differing views about the desirability or otherwise of the principle of elected Commissioners, but this inquiry has been held in a constructive spirit so as to determine how these proposals can best be delivered.
Rt Hon Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, says:
"Directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners could give the public more opportunities to influence the way in which their local area is policed. But this is not inevitable. In abolishing Police Authorities and introducing directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners, the Government is placing a huge responsibility on these individuals. They will have a high volume of work and large geographical areas to cover. They will need effective teams of support staff, and the advice of strong Police and Crime Panels if they are to do their jobs well.
The purpose of the cooling-off period is to ensure that there is not the slightest hint of a conflict of interest between a former Chief Constable and the area he or she policed. We recommend a policing charter which will define clearly and precisely where the writ of the Commissioner ends and the responsibility of the Chief Constable begins."