The PCC elections have been criticised for creating policy free zones, which I think is a tad unfair. The elections are as yet over 7 months away, and candidates are sometimes tempted not to reveal their ideas so early that opponents (including rivals in their own parties) can steal them, while retaining the concern not to break a party line that has not yet been revealed.
Not so in London, where Boris Johnson has revealed his Crime Manifesto. I’m not going to engage in a critique or fact-check of this document, but merely draw to your attention some of the highlights and implications.
Boris is a brand on his own and this gives him a degree of manifesto freedom that few other party candidates might enjoy, but he is actually the Police and Crime Commissioner for London, and even though he exercises this through Kit Malthouse, it is the best clue we have to what it might be possible for PCCs to offer.
The first big point is the promise of more bobbies on the beat – 2,000 of them, broken down to give a feel for the impact on a neighbourhood team. Are these extra officers, or those turfed out of offices? Either way, it is a straight offer to give the public what they most frequently demand, rather than avoiding, confronting, or skirting round the issue.
The second big point is doubling the number of Special Constables to 10,000, and helping this along with a 50 per cent rebate on the Mayor’s share of Council Tax to Special Constables. PCC candidates should know that Specials do their role for free, but this does not mean they are free. Training, uniform and a host of other costs will now be joined with the cost of a Council Tax discount. PCCs in other areas would need the agreement of their Councils for this to be meaningful, and in two-tier areas a mechanism to transfer monies between billing and precepting authorities may need to be invented to match this.
The third notable is the extension of ‘buy one get one free’ police officer scheme for borough councils. No reliance on PCSOs here.
Then there are local issues – which for Boris are the Olympics (!), tackling Gangs and the use of “Status Dogs” – and the mechanisms of Neighbourhood policing – Safer Neighbourhood Boards in every borough.
There is a tantalising glimpse of an impact on criminal justice beyond the police with the promise to “Give local people a direct say in Community Payback” – expect nominations of which grot-spot to clean up, rather than a think-up-a-degrading-job-to-act-as-a-deterrent scheme (more’s the pity!).
There’s the promise of a Sentencing Unit for London, monitoring what the courts are up to, pushing for Community impact to be recognised, challenging undue leniency. This goes beyond what are the formal powers of the post and into the influence that a PCCs mandate will bring. Expect uncomfortable judges and probation officers.
There’s a £1 million a year local crime prevention fund for Safer Neighbourhood Board projects (seems to be £1 million per borough), and a Crime reporting smartphone app (including photos – does his include bruises? CSI DIY?).
And lots more – feel free to read it. Some of these things are what Boris can promise because of the other areas of his Mayoral responsibility, but others are not specifically under his control. Will other PCCs feel so confident? Is this what local PCC manifestos will look like?
And if you doubt this is the work of Boris, note that instead of talking of imprisonment or ‘custody’, he says “gaoled”. Not even “jailed”. Fabulous!