NEW POLL: is it time for elected police chiefs?

by Stephen Tall on October 2, 2008

Sir Ian Blair has resigned as commissioner of London’s Metropolitan police force, and the race to be his successor is now on, with the appointment the responsibility of the Home Secretary. All of which begs the timely question: should police chiefs be directly elected?

Lib Dem policy is against directly elected police chiefs, instead proposing that chief constables be made accountable to police authorities. Writing for Lib Dem Voice recently, the party’s shadow home secretary Chris Huhne explained the policy:

for the 35 police authorities that straddle lots of councils (out of the total number of 43 in England and Wales), we propose that two thirds of their members are directly elected by fair votes (single transferable vote). One third would continue to be nominated from councils. Authorities would also be able to co-opt other members, like magistrates, to ensure diversity and expertise.

Unlike Labour and Tory plans for elected sheriffs, our proposals ensure that all groups and opinions, including women and ethnic minorities, would be fairly represented. Elections would be about policing issues, not populist posturing. These plans also breathe life into our commitment to localism by ensuring that councils take control where possible, but that police authorities are fairly elected otherwise. And they set out a route march for a real attack on crime by focussing not on what sounds tough, but on what works.

This aspect of the Lib Dems’ catchily-titled Cutting Crime and Catching Criminals policy paper provoked some internal controversy, especially among Lib Dem councillors. Richard Kemp was among those who rejected the proposal for directly elected police authorities arguing, again here on Lib Dem Voice:

There are many reasons that localism is failing, and a lack of democracy is only one of them. Far more important is the fact that services within and without local authorities are run in silos by specialists. Electing those silos will not help join services around the needs of individuals or communities but entrench the silos. Having more elected bodies will lead to turf wars about supremacy, and will make it for more different to join up service providers around one long-term and coherent direction for the town, county or city.

However, for the sake of simplicity in this poll, we’re not going to get side-tracked by the composition of those police authorities. What we want to know is: how do you think police chiefs should be chosen? Here are your choices:

* Directly elected by the public;
* Appointed by democratically accountable local police authorities;
* Don’t know / No opinion

As ever, feel free to pick away at the wording, and continue the debate in the comments below…