This week we voted (or didn’t) for the 41 police commissioners who sit above our police forces in England and Wales and control their budgets, which have a combined total of around 8 billion pounds.
They also set the policing objectives for their area, having the power to hire and fire chief constables. In the words of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (membership 41 presumably?) they are ‘responsible for the totality of policing’.
That is quite a responsibility.
It seems a shame that a post of such crucial importance, at a time when policing is under such scrutiny and some forces are being held to account for historical shortcomings, has attracted so little interest in the media and will probably have attracted even less interest at the ballot box on Thursday.
The numbers voting this year are unknown at the time of writing this, but at the last election in November 2012, only 17 per cent of eligible voters thought it worth a stroll to their local polling station to have a say in how their police forces are run.
And whilst the day to day activities of the police are controlled, quite rightly, by the Chief Constables, the parameters within which they can operate are laid down by the elected Police Commissioners.
I also wish that this particular electoral process was not yet again decided along party political lines.
Our four candidates in the Thames Valley were all attached to political parties, when if there were ever an electable appointment that could benefit from being filled by an independent candidate with appropriate qualifications and work experience without having to toe a party political line in order to carry out the job, surely this it.
Ian Johnston, a former policeman, (who won in Gwent in 2012 by promising to "Keep Politics out of Policing”) believed it was impossible to do the job if you don’t know anything about policing.
It is debatable whether the new much more expensive system is an improvement on the old Police Authorities, which may have had no mandate but were made up of more than one person and could therefore have less opportunity to impose eccentric policies.
A Police Commissioner appoints all his own staff, including his deputy, and to some extent is one of the most powerful individual appointments in the country, arguably on a par with London’s Mayor.