Police and Crime Commissioners – an opportunity for positive change by Shane Britton of Revolving Doors

On 15 November, the first generation of Police and Crime Commissioners will be elected in 41 police force areas across England and Wales. The policy has been controversial, with mixed press coverage and opposition in Parliament from Labour. However, with less than 100 days to go before the elections it is time for those in the criminal justice sector to pause and consider what opportunities this radical change may provide.

As part of Revolving Door’s project to inform and influence PCC candidates, we recently published a background paper which looks in detail at the reform, and considers the implications for two groups that should be a priority for PCCs: young adults in contact with the criminal justice system, and offenders with multiple needs including poor mental health. Both groups are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and make considerable demands on police time. Young adults in particular are also among the most likely to be victims of crime.

As the report stresses, there is substantial potential for PCCs to work creatively to address the problems faced by these groups, and in doing so reduce crime and reoffending within their force area.

Firstly, as the Home Office have been keen to emphasise, PCCs have a broader remit than the police authorities they replace. They are responsible for community safety and crime reduction as well as police oversight; and with almost half a million proven repeat offences nationally in the year ending June 2010 they will need to set out a clear vision to reduce the high levels of reoffending by ‘revolving door’ offenders and young adults.

Secondly, the PCC will have a key leadership role in galvanising local partnerships. The police cannot reduce crime and reoffending alone, and PCCs will have substantial weight to pull together a range of local partners, from prisons and probation to the health and voluntary sectors that are vital to addressing the multiple needs of many repeat offenders.

Thirdly, PCCs will be important local commissioners, able to commission services which contribute to crime reduction in their area as well as pool funds and joint-commission with partners where there are overlapping priorities. Investment in early intervention and the commissioning of services that work collaboratively with the police to address offenders’ health and social care needs will provide savings for the police and other local agencies through reduced reoffending and enabling the police to focus on their core role. Building close collaborations with their local Health and Wellbeing Boards, councils, and the NHS Commissioning Board will be essential.

Of course, there remain a number of concerns. With shrinking funds and competing priorities, it remains to be seen what individual PCCs will prioritise in each local area. However, it is vital that agencies working with offenders recognise the potential for positive change that PCCs offer, and consider how they can make the reform work in their area.