Police and Crime Commissioners are letting light into policing. Photo: Getty
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If Labour scraps Police and Crime Commissioners, it will be rowing back on democracy

The Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria calls on Labour to retain PCCs, or a variant of the position, to allow transparency in policing.

Almost two years since the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners, it’s a role that has continued to develop and evolve.

Labour has vowed to reform the system following Lord Stevens’ 2013 review of policing. However, there are currently 13 Labour commissioners, in office, with power and budgets, working to deliver services for the benefit of their communities, whose hands-on experience can inform policy development.

Commissioners are the elected voice of the people. Their duty is to consult communities to ascertain what they want from the police, shaping those priorities into a police and crime plan which gives strategic direction to the force. Our control of the local policing budget and our democratic leverage ensures that what the people want does happen. This represents a significant shift of power towards the public. Our "and crime" responsibilities empower us to coordinate local community safety work and elements of the criminal justice process. We will shortly be responsible for commissioning victims' services and we are developing local restorative solutions.

We have renewed focus on neighbourhood policing. These popular teams of police and community support officers, dedicated to serving a specific community, are the bedrock of modern policing, well defined as such by Lord Stevens. They work with the public and with partners to solve problems before they develop into crime or disorder, looking for longer term resolutions that help stability and community safety.

Neighbourhood policing has not only been overwhelmingly positive for communities, but it has helped to model a new kind of police officer. Remote from hierarchical management, they are directly accountable to the local communities with whom they work. They become committed to the public as well as to the police force and the trust they evoke contrasts with the distrust with which the national policing hierarchy is regarded for being too often steeped in their own sectional self-interest. The Hillsborough and Orgreave issues and contemporary concerns such as apparent inaccuracies around the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan have done immeasurable damage to public trust. Now local police are, for the first time being overseen intrusively at command level by an elected figure and any tendency to put force self-interest over public well-being can be challenged, so that it becomes, at least more difficult for these kind of events to recur.

In the same vein, police complaints have often been dealt with through a prism of institutional defensiveness, which exacerbates grievances and loses the police friends as surely as national scandals do. Labour Commissioners are tackling this with the aim of getting police to admit minor bad behaviour where it has occurred and to trust the public to understand. In Northumbria, 36 per cent of police complaints are resolved within 48 hours by a customer focussed telephone team, based in the Commissioner’s office which has a 96 per cent satisfaction rate. Public involvement, emanating from an elected Commissioner, is breaking down barriers between the police and the communities they serve and restoring trust.

All of this is taking place amidst shrinking budgets and there are further challenges ahead. Police numbers are critically low. Last December saw extra reductions to police budgets to boost the Independent Police Complaints Commission without, so far, any transfer of work. Splitting the probation service to sell part of it off could undermine crime reduction by unsettling Integrated Offender Management. Harsh reductions in legal aid will mean fewer defence lawyers, perhaps heralding a matching return to police officer prosecutions.

In a time of upheaval as well as innovation, Labour Police and Crime Commissioners will continue to navigate pathways to improve policing in their local communities. Whether the role remains or a variant takes over, the current Labour Commissioners are letting light into policing and agree with Lord Stevens that the next Labour government should not row back on democracy.

Vera Baird is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Vera Baird QC MP is the Solicitor General
Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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