COLUMN by Crawley MP Henry Smith: Police must respond to and serve the people

A week today you will have the opportunity to vote for our newly elected local Police & Crime Commissioner candidate as part of new measures to ensure greater accountability within the police force to local communities.

The police are a public service and they should serve and respond to local people. This is why I support the introduction of directly elected Police & Crime Commissioners.

The ongoing centralisation of the police witnessed under the previous Government has left the service disconnected from the communities they are there to serve.  The approach of Labour was to intervene more and more in local policing in an attempt to make it more accountable.  Our local police officers were directed by Whitehall diktats and obscene targets which kept bobbies behind their desk for half of their shifts.  Nowhere was there a direct democratic check and balance to which Sir Robert Peel referred in 1829 as the bedrock of police activity.

The Police & Crime Commissioner that will be elected next week will bring democratic accountability to the police. They will have the local knowledge and understanding to set Sussex Police Force’s policing priorities. They will have the democratic mandate to set our local police budget and the council tax precept and they will have the power to hold the Sussex Chief Constable to account for the performance of the force.

However, this is not to politicise the police force.  The Government has been clear that the long held principle of operational independence, where those operating in the office of the chief constable are able to make independent decisions on how to use their legitimate coercive powers on behalf of the state, will continue to remain the cornerstone of the British policing model.  The Commissioners will have no control over operational decisions. 

I will be casting my vote for local Sussex resident and Crawley school governor, Katy Bourne, because she is standing in support for the issues which are of greatest importance to local residents:

l Cutting crime

l Ensuring that we have visible and effective neighbourhood policing

l Ensuring that our Criminal Justice System is geared towards the victims’ rights and not the criminals’

l Tackling anti-social behaviour and  domestic violence

l Delivering value for money from our police force

One most recent examples of Katy’s important role in our town has been her support for a local business-led initiative to tackle alcohol fuelled anti-social behaviour and supporting Neighbourhood Watch.