UK & World News
New Police Bosses Will 'Create Conflict'
Conflict between soon-to-be elected Police and Crime Commissioners and existing Chief Constables is "likely", according to a study of elected police officials in the United States.
Over exuberant election promises, severe budget cuts within the police service and clashing personalities could all help raise tensions.
The election of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will take place on November 15. It marks the most fundamental change in the governance of the police service in the modern era.
PCCs will have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables and to set policing priorities and budgets.
Fulbright Police Research scholar Jayme Johnson interviewed 42 police leaders in the US, a mix of elected politicians and professional police officers.
He told Sky News: "Without a doubt, their conclusion was that conflict is likely."
But Mr Johnson, whose research has now been passed on to the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers, said there were lessons from the American experience of elected officials within law enforcement which could be applied to this country and help mitigate the potential for conflict.
He said: "The politician and the Chief Constable have to sit down at the beginning of the politician's time in office and agree a shared policing strategy and a philosophy which they can stand by and they can take to the public with confidence."
The reality of what newly-elected PCCs will face once in office will do little to aid harmonious relationships.
Ambitious election promises may be impossible to keep as the reality of tough budget cuts begin to bite.
The PCCs will take office with police budgets set to decline by 20% within the next three years.
James Taylor, policing expert at the business advisory firm Deloitte, warns that "Newly-elected PCCs will take charge of forces undergoing massive upheaval and there will be a relentless focus on finance and cuts. Whatever party or candidate wins, the PCC will need to hit the ground running and be prepared to begin taking tough decisions from day one."
"By March 2013, the PCC will have to have finalised the Police and Crime Plan, a complex five-year document that requires a firm understanding of local needs, so time will be of the essence."
This of course will all be in addition to finding a suitable office and an experienced team to help the Commissioner with day-to-day business.
The PCC's new team will have to establish a workable relationship with the existing management structure within their force. They will have to familiarise themselves with current policing operations and commitments made by the Chief Constable, before the new Commissioner can even think about how to deliver their own manifesto commitments.
Another key role for Police and Crime Commissioners will be to consult regularly with the public on policing priorities.
There lies another avenue for potential conflict, as particularly forceful PCCs might be tempted to interfere in day-to-day operational decisions.
Policing Minister Damian Green said he felt the potential for conflict had been overstated, as there were clear guidelines that Police and Crime Commissioners must abide by.
The minister said: "Their job is to hold the Chief Constable to account, not to be the Chief Constable."
He added: "I will welcome forceful personalities as PCCs. They've got a big, important job and what I don't want to see is them becoming like too many of the Police Authorities, which became particularly cosy with their local Chief Constables. I don't think Chief Constables want that either."
An advertising blitz has sought to boost the public's appetite for these elections... in truth the Government is braced for an historically low turnout.
If the public don't want PCCs, the police certainly don't, but in a few days' time they will have no choice but to work with their new political overlords.