Role of police and crime commissioners
Between 1964 and 2012, local democratic accountability of the police was in the hands of police authorities.
Police and crime commissioners (and now also their equivalents in London, Manchester and West Yorkshire) replaced police authorities in November 2012. Since then, they have been the principal instrument of local democratic accountability, subject to Home Secretary’s overall political responsibility to Parliament for policing policy and national police funding.
Police and crime commissioners are elected for four-year terms. The last elections were in May 2021.
The principal obligations of a police and crime commissioner are:
- to secure the maintenance of the police force, by setting the budget;
- to secure that the police force is efficient and effective;
- to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his functions and the functions of the persons under his direction and control, namely the police force of which he is chief constable; and
- to establish a police and crime plan, to which the chief constable must have regard.
Police and crime plans
A police and crime plan is a plan which sets out, for the planning period (usually four years):
- the police and crime commissioner’s police and crime objectives;
- the policing which the chief constable is to provide;
- the financial and other resources which the police and crime commissioner is to provide to the chief constable;
- the means by which the chief constable will report to the police and crime commissioner on the provision of policing;
- the means by which the chief constable’s performance is to be measured; and
- the crime and disorder reduction grants which the police and crime commissioner is to make and the conditions on which they will be made.
The police and crime commissioner’s police and crime objectives are his or her objectives for:
- the policing of the area;
- the reduction of crime and disorder in the area; and
- the discharge of the police force’s national and international obligations.
The Home Secretary has the power to give guidance to police and crime commissioners about the matters to be dealt with in police and crime plans.
The principal powers of the police and crime commissioner are:
- the power to appoint, re-appoint and dismiss the chief constable;
- the power to set the force’s budget; and
- the power to establish local priorities for the force through the police and crime plan.
Those are the powers which police and crime commissioners may exercise to achieve their statutory objectives.
Before establishing a police and crime plan, the police and crime commissioner must consult the chief constable and the local police and crime panel. He must also make arrangements for obtaining the views of local people, including victims of crime, about policing in the area. The police and crime plan must be published.
Publicity and reporting
Police and crime commissioners are also required to publish information which he considers necessary to enable the public to assess the performance of the police and crime commissioner’s functions and the performance of the police force.
Police and crime commissioners must also publish annual reports on their work and the progress which has been made in meeting the police and crime objectives in the police and crime plan.
PCCs receive their funding from a variety of sources, but the two main sources are from Central Government and the local precept.
The local precept is the portion of your council tax that goes towards paying for policing. It will be subject to the same referendum requirements as local government (triggered on rises which exceed thresholds set by Government).
Working with chief constables
PCCs appoint (and are able to dismiss) chief constables, although the chief constable will appoint all other officers within the force.
The PCC can commission policing services from the chief constable (or from other providers, in consultation with the chief constable). These services shall be set out in the plan where their objectives and funding will be publicly disclosed.
PCCs will be able to require a report from chief constables at any time about the execution of their functions.
Fire and Rescue Services
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 sets out provisions to enable PCCs to take on responsibility for the governance of local fire and rescue services where a local case is made. It also places a new duty on police, fire and rescue and emergency ambulance services to collaborate where it is in the interests of their efficiency or effectiveness.
Essex PCC Roger Hirst was the first to take on governance of a fire and rescue service in October 2017, after his proposal was approved by the Home Secretary in July 2017. Since then, five PCCs – Staffordshire, West Mercia, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire – have had their proposals approved by the Home Secretary, with a further three – Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Lancashire – in the process of developing their proposals.
PCCs have replaced police authorities in Wales as well as in England. So far as possible, the arrangements in Wales and England are the same, but the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act reflects the Welsh devolution settlement and the specific powers of the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Ministers.
London, Manchester and West Yorkshire
London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire have directly elected Mayors. In 2012, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) took over democratic accountability for policing in the capital (outside the City of London). Since May 2017, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has had responsibilities in respect of the governance and budgets relating to Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. In May 2021, the first Mayor of West Yorkshire was elected. These roles include all the functions of a police and crime commissioner.
The City of London is unique and it has unique policing governance to recognise the fact – it operates on a non-party political basis through its Lord Mayor, aldermen and members of the Court of Common Council. The governance is tailored to the particular institutions and traditions of the City of London.