Today the Committee has published the 57 responses it has received in total from the Home Office, Police and Crime Panels, the APCC and Police and Crime Commissioner to its report Tone from the top - local policing – leadership, accountability and ethics.
As well as praising the new impetus brought to local policing by the newly elected PCCs in terms of greater innovation, increased visibility and greater responsiveness to local conditions and issues, the report highlighted confusion about roles and responsibilities, insufficient challenge and scrutiny of PCC decision making and a lack of real redress where a PCC fails below the standards expected.
The Committee suggested all PCC candidates in the May 2016 elections should be invited to sign an ethical checklist to demonstrate their personal commitment to high standards and also recommended:
- A new national minimum code of conduct for police and crime commissioners
- A review of the powers available where a PCC demonstrably falls below expected standards of behaviour
- more effective and strategic scrutiny and support of PCCs’ decisions by local Police and Crime Panels
- PCCs’ responsibility should explicitly include holding Chief Constable to account for ethical behaviour and embedding the College of Policing Code of Ethics in his/her force.
It is clear from the responses that some PCPs and current PCCs are choosing to adopt many of our recommendations unilaterally but, overall, there is a fairly muted view from PCCs and the Government to any national prescription for standards or a minimum code of conduct for PCCs. The Committee understands the argument. PCCs represent a more direct form of ‘democratic’ accountability, being held to account for their actions by the public at four yearly election intervals. They need to have the freedom to do their important and complex work in their own way.
It must be recognised that the first set of elected PCCs had a huge job to do in shaping the role, setting out their priorities, establishing their offices and adapting to new relationships and ways of working. In the course of the report, we have not spoken to any PCC who has not found it to be a steep learning curve and it is notable that many have chosen not to stand a second time. These are undoubtedly among the most challenging and high profile public leadership positions - and set to become more so if they take on wider responsibilities for Fire and Rescue services.
Democratic accountability does not obfuscate the need for day to day scrutiny, challenge and support . Indeed, from our inquiry it was clear that many successful PCCs very much welcomed it. Healthy, effective and challenging relationships are essential – how else can the voting public make a well-informed judgement about how their PCC – and ultimately their local police service - is performing?
The democratic accountability model of policing naturally creates a patchwork of differing approaches. To some degree that was the intention - to allow a local approach to local issues. However, when it comes to standards of behaviour and decision-making, the public require a common yardstick by which they can judge. Local MPs – the most apposite example of democratic accountability – sign up to a common Code of Conduct and attend an ethical component based on the seven principles of public life as part of the induction programme for their role in serving the public. The Committee believe all PCCs should do the same. The principles stand the test of time; successive research shows they remain a solid baseline for gauging public expectations about the behaviour of those who serve them.
The Committee intends to send out its ethical checklist to all PCC candidates in the May elections. We hope it will help inform the public about the ethical approach of all candidates seeking election to these important posts. If the tone and culture of policing is set by those at the top, then the public is entitled to know that the person they vote for will promote, support and sustain high standards.