Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Old Bill Bill

The Conservative-led government seems determined to press on with its Police Bill to have a directly-elected Police Commissioner to replace the existing police authorities.

This is despite the fact that, in the latest poll, less than a third of the public supported the proposal and senior police officers are overwhelmingly opposed because they believe it increases the politicisation of policing. Last week, the House of Lords also opposed the proposals.

The politicisation concerns were heightened this week when David Cameron, following a national newspaper campaign, heavily leaned on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to divert resources away from the priorities the Police Authority had already agreed – including tackling gun crime and distraction burglaries – to investigate the disappearance of Madeline McCann in Portugal four years ago. Of course, we all understand that the McCann family want to bring all the resources possible to discover what happened – but so did the Needham family from Sheffield when their young son Ben disappeared twenty years ago. And so do all the other families whose children have disappeared.

What appears on the face of it to be fairly innocuous orders from David Cameron, it’s a fairly short step from this to telling the police they have got to investigate one thing rather than another. What is the likelihood of one of these directly-elected police commissioners being able to resist the pressure of a local newspaper editor – to investigate thefts at the local golf club? – before instructing the Chief Constable that these thefts take priority over anti-social behaviour or distraction burglary? I think the dangers are obvious and the proposals should be halted now.

Incidentally, South Yorkshire Police has launched a new initiative to tackle distraction burglary – this is where villains knock on front-doors, usually of elderly residents, and often claim to be from one of the utility companies to gain access to the home, before stealing cash and goods and then make off.

As a colleague pointed out to me, someone in the police force must have both political insight and a sense of humour when they gave the initiative a name. So, what have they called this scheme to tackle people who knock on your front-door and promise you one thing and then do another? ‘Operation Liberal’! Spot on.