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Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are directly elected politicians responsible for securing an “effective and efficient” police force for their area.

The first PCC elections took place in 2012. The last PCC election took place 6 May 2021. The Library briefing PCC Elections 2021 sets out the results. The election was due to take place in 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

PCCs have three core functions:

  • Police governance: They set an annual budget and a five-year police and crime plan for their force. As part of their budgetary responsibilities they set the council tax precept for their police force area. They are also responsible for appointing a chief officer to lead their force.
  • Police oversight: They are responsible for scrutinising their force’s performance and holding their chief officer accountable for the delivery of their police and crime plan. They also play a role delivering the local police complaints system.
  • Commissioning criminal justice services: They are responsible for commissioning victims services and some crime prevention programmes in their police force area.

There are 39 PCCs in England and Wales. Four of them, the PCCs for Essex, Staffordshire, West Mercia and Northamptonshire, also hold responsibilities relating to their local fire & rescue service. These PCCs are technically known as Police, Fire & Crime Commissioners (PFCCs). Throughout this briefing the term PCC will be used inclusively of PFCCs.

How are PCCs held to account?

PCCs are held accountable in three ways:

  • via the ballot box. PCCs are directly elected politicians. The electorate has the power to vote them out if they are dissatisfied with their performance. PCC elections take place every four years.
  • by local councillors sitting on Police and Crime Panels (PCPs). PCPs provide formal scrutiny of their PCC between elections. They are supposed to provide a similar function to parliamentary select committees which scrutinise the work of government between General Elections.
  • by the Home Secretary through their power to issue directions to “ineffective” PCCs. These directions can require a PCC to take specific actions. They can also be used to require PCCs submit an “action plan” to the Home Secretary detailing how they’ll address the Home Secretary’s concerns.

Like all politicians PCCs are also held accountable by public opinion. PCCs can voluntarily resign and some have done so. 

Government review

The Government is currently conducting a two-part internal review of the PCC model. The review has been prompted by a Conservative Party 2019 manifesto commitment to “strengthen the accountability of elected Police and Crime Commissions and expand their role”. The Government says it is “right to step back and consider how we can continue to evolve the PCC model” now that good time has passed since the introduction of PCCs.

Part one of the review concluded in March 2021. The Government is committed to several reforms of the PCC model as a result. A full list of the commitments, organised by theme, is set out in the annex of this briefing. These commitments are discussed in detail where relevant throughout this briefing.   

Part two of the Review will commence after the 2021 PCC elections and will focus on “longer term reforms” to be implemented ahead of the 2024 PCC elections including; reforming the way public complaints about PCCs are handled and ensuring PCCs play a role within the wider “criminal justice landscape”.

Concerns

There have been some general concerns with the PCC model since its introduction. Most notably that:

  • public understanding of and engagement with PCCs is poor.
  • relationships between chief officers and PCCs are not facilitating effective management of police forces.
  • PCCs are ineffective and provide weak leadership of police forces.
  • PCCs are too parochial and struggle to drive collaboration between forces on crime threats that cross police borders.

Despite the concerns the Government has been positive about the impact of PCCs. It says PCCs have “brought real local accountability to policing”. In their 2016 report on PCCs the Home Affairs Select Committee largely agreed. They said that “the introduction of PCCs has worked well to date and has had some beneficial effect on public accountability and clarity of leadership in policing.” However, part-one of the Government’s review did find room to improve the accountability and transparency of PCCs so the public can make “an informed decision about the record of their PCC at the ballot box”.


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