Steve House, Scotland's new single force Chief Constable, hits out at police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales
The first Chief Constable of the new single Scottish police force has described the newly-elected police and crime commissioners in England and Wales as a “dangerously toxic” mix blurring the line between policing and politics.
Steve House, who was appointed in September, said he has spoken to senior and junior colleagues south of the Border who feel “disheartened” about last week’s police and crime commissioner elections.
House warned the elections represented the “triumph of political dogma” over operational policing and that he fears forces in England and Wales will be adversely affected.
Speaking at the International Policing Conference at the Hub, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, he said: “My view is that it’s the wrong concept, a dangerously toxic mix and frankly the triumph of political dogma… over policing. So I don’t think things look good for policing in England and Wales and if you think that’s me sitting up here crowing about what’s happening down there, it’s not.”
House said: “It’s actually sharing the pain of a huge number of senior colleagues and junior colleagues in England and Wales who tell me what’s happening and they feel disappointed and disheartened about what’s going on. It puts our situation in a much stronger perspective.”
House, who last week sat down with Holyrood to discuss the merger of Scotland’s eight forces from April 2013, spoke at the event – supported by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research – in front of a large audience of delegates, some from police forces across Europe.
Following his speech, the former chief constable of Strathclyde Police outlined some of the specific fears he has for colleagues operating under the police crime commissioners that were elected last week on turnouts of between 13 and 20 per cent.
Acknowledging the “patchy” and “small number” of voters, House said in a statement: “In my view, the idea of the PCCs is fundamentally a bad one. Having an individual who’s directly elected, holding a Chief Constable to account will mean a blurring of the lines between a political agenda and operational requirements.
“For example, if an individual is elected on the basis of providing highly visible policing, who decides on the proportion of uniformed officers on patrol and the proportion of plain clothes officers? In my view, that is clearly a decision for the Chief Constable but if the local PCC feels votes slipping away might they be tempted to apply pressure to the Chief Constable?
“If that individual can hire and fire a Chief Constable, imagine the constraints that would put on that individual.
He added: “The Scottish model is superior as the new Scottish Police Authority, set up to provide greater scrutiny of the new single police service when it comes into effect next year, has a synthesis of elected representatives and a number of individuals with specialist and distinctive backgrounds.
“The fact there are 13 individuals in the Authority allows for a difference and a blending of opinion which provides a more appropriate counterbalance to the power of the Chief Constable and provides a more balanced relationship.”