Who’d want to be a police and crime commissioner? There are 12 documents in the candidate briefing the Home Office has produced outlining the roles and responsibilities of a commissioner. These include powerful things like being able to sack the chief constable, frightening things like setting the whole police budget and strategic direction, and much more difficult things like reducing crime at the same time as reducing budgets. There is also a line about meeting public expectations.
With all these high-level objectives, it is easy to forget how broken down and vulnerable most people the police deal with are, and how often the police end up like social workers, but with only the blunt instrument of the criminal justice system as a sanction.
I was forcefully reminded of this the other day as I watched 999, What’s Your Emergency?, a Channel 4 documentary which follows the work of the Blackpool police. The most recent one was about young people, but it was the parents who were the saddest, the alcoholic mother who kept calling the police, the mentally disabled woman criminalised for giving oral sex on the beach, the father in the pub who was drinking so much he couldn’t find his 12- year-old daughter.
These are the kind of people who are victims of crime but who also find themselves in and out of the criminal justice system, constantly in contact with the police. Yet, although their behaviour is disruptive and damaging to themselves and those around, being in and out of prison is clearly no solution to their problems.
The Revolving Doors charity wants to change how we deal with the 60,000 people who are in this position and its latest pamphlet gives suggestions about what police and crime commissioners should be doing to tackle the problem.
The solutions the charity puts forward are not particularly surprising: they involve commissioning creatively, working with a range of partners and consulting with those very people in contact with the criminal justice system.
It basically means PCCs using their strategic power to bang heads together and get the police service to work more closely with prisons and probation, the voluntary sector, the NHS and local authorities. One of Revolving Doors’ most powerful examples is New Directions in Warrington where the police help with early intervention by referring people with low level needs to mental health services. The project has led to a 78 per cent drop in crime compared to the pre-intervention rate.
The question is whether it is asking too much of PCCs to set up such projects when every service is severely reducing their budgets and officers in local authorities and managers in the health service are spending most of their time working out how to stop things getting worse.
Revolving Doors claims that early versions of their financial analysis model show a national investment of £33m per year to services for offenders with multiple needs could result in savings of £3bn across public services – but how much of this would the police see?
In addition I suspect this group of people is the most likely to be adversely affected by welfare reform and the imminent introduction of universal credit which will make them even more at risk of eviction from their homes, even less able to manage their money and even poorer.
Revolving Doors is right to be ambitious about helping the most vulnerable offenders and right that early mental health interventions are the key to the problem. The task will be persuading police and crime commissioners, who have so much else to do, that they are a worthwhile priority.
Read Revolving Doors’ new publication Ending the Revolving Door: How the first generation of police and crime commissioners can cut crime by working in partnership to address multiple needs
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