One of the reasons Police Authorities are being replaced is because of their alleged invisibility. No-one knows who they are. On a recent Sunday Politics North West debate, none of the participants could name a single member of Lancashire Police Authority.
However, I do feel for Police Authorities here. For the years I served on Lancashire Probation Board, our meetings were held in public, but I can’t ever remember the public turning up. On the Council, it’s a little better, but much the same. If anything, the Police Authority have tried – for years I went to one Police Authority Community Meeting after another, and found little more than the ‘usual suspects’ in attendence, despite repeated efforts to counter this. Often, ordinary people are understandably uninterested in agendas, minutes, and the like, and it seems to take some immediate threat for most people to give up family or telly-time to engage with these sort of bodies.
The new Police and Crime Commissioner will enter office with the benefit of having just had the major doorstep challenge of getting elected. That will require engagement, and they will probably want to continue that interaction. The doorstep is actually a good place to meet the public. Sure, there are people who just want to keep the heat in their house, or eat their tea – but often they appreciate the effort made in coming round, and the individual attention it involves. Importantly, while in Lancashire there will not be a chance to knock on the doors of 1.3 million voters between now and November, the doors that will be knocked on will probably generate a much more representative sample of public opinion than the ‘usual suspects’ ever did. The Commissioner cannot be an individual caseworker for every policing incident of all those people, but the discipline of regular contact that an election brings provides an opportunity to take engagement of the public to another level.
Just one niggle though. I was acutely aware last week that the Police Authority, an organisation that is very sensitive about being labelled invisible, was having its meeting in a borrowed room at County Hall, where 4 cameras point down on the inhabitants so that the County Council can webcast its meetings to the world. But for the Police Authority, in the same room, there was no webcast. Can’t understand why people think they’re invisible.