Give public the power to judge the police
Elected sheriffs would force police to concentrate on the only issue we care about: cutting crime
May I claim my prize? Three years ago, in a book called Direct Democracy, I suggested placing the police under elected sheriffs or, where appropriate, elected mayors. A year later, David Cameron took up the idea. Now, the Home Secretary, too, has announced her support.
If the issue strikes you as a bit wonkish, consider a survey carried out in 2001. Nine constabularies were asked what their priorities should be. Sure enough, they replied that they should concentrate on recruiting more ethnic minority officers, crack down on sexist language, improve their relations with the gay community and so on. The same question was then put to the people who lived in those areas. Their reply was equally predictable: catch more criminals.
As things stand, with police commissioners accountable upwards only to the Home Secretary, there is no mechanism to align the former with the latter.
The invulnerability of the police to democratic opinion took physical form when the Met Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, was called before the London Assembly after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Faced with a vote of no confidence from the people's tribunes, he taunted them, saying: "If you think you have the power to sack me, go ahead."
Just imagine, though, if Sir Ian did have to answer to the rest of us. Just imagine if he had to explain why, for example, he had spent money on hiring 14 diversity advisers - and then stand for re-election on his record. At present, council candidates ritually promise to 'put more bobbies on the beat', knowing very well that this is not in their power. Voters have given up believing that anything will ever change.
But entertain conjecture of a time when such things really are determined by our votes. Go further: imagine the mayor having the power to set local sentencing guidelines (although not to intervene in specific cases). That would get us voting again. ·
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