Delivering locally and influencing nationally: how PCCs are shaping the criminal justice system

5 October 2016

In 2012, when the first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were sworn in, the prevailing consensus was that the public had lost faith in policing. Few people outside of Whitehall were predicting PCCs would shake-up policing and reshape the criminal justice system around the experience of victims and witnesses.

Four years later, PCCs are now firmly at the heart of local and national policing, and the legacy of the first term is not simply a demonstrably higher profile than Police Authorities, but improved transparency and greater accountability.

Overcoming organisational inertia can be slow, but by simply asking “why can’t we?”, and not accepting the status quo, attitudes and services can change.

As Chair of the Sussex Criminal Justice Board, I’ve made our collective ambition and service provision more effective than the sum of its parts.

Restorative justice (RJ) is working in Sussex because the 26 organisations involved in the partnership can all see the benefits for victims and offenders, and for society. The national re-offending rate is 26 per cent but for offenders reviewed after Sussex RJ interventions, the rate is 14.1 per cent with 100 per cent satisfaction for victims.

We all depend on 21st century digital technology to communicate, shop and conduct business, but the criminal justice system seems stuck in the 19th century. My office is piloting a Video Enabled Justice model for the South East that will save thousands of hours of police officer time and speed up the process of giving and transferring evidence. With video end points being installed and a virtual courts scheduling system in preparation, we are redesigning the justice system around people and not around arcane processes, giving victims and witnesses access to swifter justice.

Continuous public engagement gives me excellent insight. My Sussex Youth Commission members spoke to 4,000 young people. They set up an Independent Youth Advisory Group which advised on changes to stop and search, the impact of policing the night time economy on young people, and contributed to the counter-radicalisation strand of the national Prevent strategy.

After listening to more than 2,000 older people, my Elders’ Commission presented their report in Parliament, focusing especially on fraud and financial abuse. As a result, I want to make elder abuse a recognised crime and make detecting and prosecuting offenders a priority for all criminal justice partners.

With funding challenges and evolving crime, police forces must adapt whilst ensuring communities feel adequately policed. PCCs can bring leverage and support through effective thought-leadership, innovative funding allocations and robust scrutiny.

We have seen that having a democratically elected, ‘go-to’ figure, means that the public now have higher expectations of policing and a strong, visible voice. My postbag and in-tray bear witness to the huge increase in public interest and the much-heralded policing by consent principle.

Often, the policing that the public see is not all the policing they get to keep them safe. Just as with our security services, we need the democratic oversight and accountability through PCCs so that local taxpayers can understand why and how they are policed.

The first term exceeded expectations, with many PCCs delivering improved services locally and influencing the criminal justice system nationally. With further blue light collaboration already underway in many areas, and with the Police and Crime Bill making its way through Parliament, it will be interesting to see how the PCC model evolves further.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

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