I had intended to say something about the Association of Chief Police Officers “Guidelines for Interaction with Police and Crime Commissioner Candidates” before it moved steadily down my list of things to do, until I was reminded by what Bernard Rix had to say about it.
Bernard has highlighted one candidate who may or not be in breach of the guidelines, and it needs to be said that such breaches are not hard to find.
Take section 7, which opines on the issue of pre-existing police images
What's a 'police image'? Is it an image that falls under a force's copyright, or is this an attempt to cover images of police officers, equipment and buildings, no matter to whom those images belong? If it is the former, the restriction hardly needs to be stated, but if the latter then it produces a range of bizarre consequences.
Jas Parmer, Conservative candidate in Bedfordshire, includes a photo of himself on his website, from when he was a police officer. Would anyone really suggest he needs police permission for this?
TopOfTheCops regular Clive Grunshaw, Labour Candidate in Lancashire, illustrates his website with a photo of him stood next to a brick wall – from Lancashire Constabulary Headquarters.
His Tory rival Tim Ashton, uses the same wall on his site.
Do ACPO expect Lancashire Constabulary to leap into action to defend their rights over this wall?
Of course candidates are going to use images related to police and crime in this election. Some will have extensive libraries of images from their past achievements in policing and crime reduction, whereas others will need to take any opportunity to pose next to a passing police officer, police car or, if they're not quick enough, by less-mobile police premises. What is curious is the idea that this might be taken to imply police support for the candidate.
But this is the Church of ACPO – when agreeing on professional practice they formulate something called 'doctrine' and they expect obedience from their communicants. Never mind that their pronouncements actually come from a private company, and lack any special legal force.
There are other issues with the guidance. Elected representatives get a degree of engagement for which candidates, as ordinary citizens, apparently don't qualify. Except that some of them will be elected representatives, and will have privileged access. The curious thing here is how ordinary members of the public appear to be accorded only a third-class status by ACPO, beneath elected representatives and ACPO members.
There is the counter-productive requirement at 6.1 to publish all information given to candidates.
And then there is what looks like an attempt in section 13.6 to extend restrictions on police officers, to ensure they don't sign nomination forms. Of course, police officers aren't banned from signing nomination forms. There is nothing to say their assent to a nomination is an expression of support or an attempt to persuade other people to vote for them. It would be brave to attempt to define such a signature as political activity, when the senior judiciary now accept that magistrates can stand for PCC without breaching their impartiality, and that sitting magistrates may be able to engage in leafleting.
I can see that ACPO may have the nightmare where a particular candidate attracts 100 signatures from officers in the local force, as might very well happen where a candidate opposes problematic police pension reforms. Senior officers may feel they need to summon the menace of career consequences for offences which don't seem to exist, but surely that de facto extension of the law is exactly the sort of policing we need to avoid, and we need to remember that police officers have rights as citizens too.