Well done to Simon Weston for sticking to his principles of altruism and standing down as an independent candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Caught like a rabbit in the headlights between the powerful political party machinery on both his left and his right at a recent gathering of nominated candidates in London, the small group of independents appeared kettled between the political candidates.
I faced a similar dilemma. After thirty years of active police leadership, including nine years as a both a member of the Inspectorate of Constabulary and then as a Home Office Regional Director, I am well qualified to understand the complexities of police practice and governance. My last six years as an independent academic teaching and researching public leadership across public agencies, principally in healthcare, local government and policing have provided me with that extra dimension to take an objective view of both practice and governance. I intended also to stand as an independent in my home county of Staffordshire. Significant barriers faced me as an individual independent as the nomination processes and procedures emerged albeit in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. The possibility of losing one’s deposit against a probable low turnout and a clear push for political control with all the machinery that supports this made the aspiration less attractive. I thus decided to forego this opportunity.
In principle, the opportunity to enable true public engagement in police governance is to be welcomed. The need to balance the operational autonomy of the police on the one hand and the rights and responsibilities of the wider public on the other is crucial. However, as Lord Scarman said following the riots of the 1980s – which I remember well from my time as a young Constable in Bristol – ‘no politician should tell a police officer what to do or which persons to arrest’. This must still hold true. The real danger of the current police reform is to over politicize the police; this appears to be happening with a required ‘swearing of allegiance’ to a political party by the impending incumbent Commissioners.
Good governance requires new public leadership, not new public management with the outcome of public leadership represented by the understanding, creation and demonstration of public value. Democratic legitimacy is not just about political leadership; it is also about community leadership. Transparency, independence and public engagement should be both the means and the ends; these values should not be up for debate. It should be about a focus on real life problems and how to solve them; it is not about political expediency and being seen to be doing something – it is about doing something. The value of policing extends beyond just the police; it is a collective endeavor linked to a collective vision not individual or party political agendas. Partnership should be central to this and not just seen as a ‘bolt-on’; joint activity linked to both shared (across institutions and the community) and distributed (within institutions) leadership represents a coactive and not just a proactive or reactive response to policing problems.
Public leadership is about adaptive leadership, tackling the wicked problems that face society the resolution of which lies beyond the gift of one organization or one commissioner; the tendency is to take a wicked problem and then apply a tame solution and then wonder why this doesn’t work!
We need a debate about the future of policing and this should not restrict the apolitical from taking part.