The role of PCCs
The role of PCCs is to ensure accountability in cutting crime and delivering effective and efficient policing. Their partnership role is to ensure a joined-up approach to preventing and reducing crime.
PCCs replaced a previous arrangement of local Police Authorities in 2012. The role of PCCs, within the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, includes:
- securing an efficient and effective police for their area;
- setting the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
- bringing together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make coordinate local priorities.
In 2014, the Ministry of Justice devolved responsibility for commissioning the majority of local services for victims of crime to PCCs, providing an annual grant to each area. The grant covers general and some specialist services (such as in relation to domestic abuse and sexual assault), and commissioning and coordinating Restorative Justice.
In 2017, PCCs also gained powers to take on the governance of fire and rescue services, subject to Home Secretary approval.
In July 2020, a two-part review of the role of PCCs and Police and Crime Panels (PCPs) began to consider accountability, scrutiny and transparency in efficient policing and reducing crime.
The second part of the review, due after the next elections, are expected to focus on longer-term reform, potential for wider efficiencies to be made within the system with a view to implementation ahead of the 2024 elections. Such considerations could include the role of mayors (informed by the Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper) and crime reduction partnership working, and even looking beyond Fire and Rescue governance towards Criminal Justice agencies too.
Commentators have noted this is an opportunity to set an agenda for the next decade and clarify arrangements and accountability for the public in things better coordination of the ‘and crime’ aspect of the role which, currently, can be overly complex.
How Research helps Police and Crime Commissioners
Since the rationale for PCCs is about accountability, scrutiny and transparency, research and innovation collaborations can help a lot.
David (2017) argues that accountability is more than being able to give answers (Williams, 2006) but more about the ways in which rationale is conducted and recorded in decision-making. Fearon (1999) points out that accountability is about responsibility for choices, before during and after.
Research, anchored to the scientific process, aligns well here because it is about considering issues, thinking and recording and concluding, and all in a purposefully logical, accessible and transparent fashion.
Scrutiny has the unfortunate etymology of deriving from the Latin scrutari, meaning “those who search through piles of rubbish in the hope of finding something of value”! Whether contemporary PCCs would find resonance in such a definition is a moot point.
Research, again, aligns well here given that its fundamental purpose (indicated in the name) is to search and find data to inform understanding. Researchers are in many ways professional seekers, sifters and sorters of data.
Schudson (2015) regarded transparency as about being an enabled right to know. Lathrop and Ruma (2010) draw upon the principles of ‘open government’ to expound the virtues of public access to the rationale and decision making of those in power, as a form of accountability.
We can see the terms resonate well with each other as they cyclically interrelate around communication of what, and how, decisions are being taken. That’s why research, as a scientific process, is a valued approach in the role of a PCC.
Given that there is a form of divide between the strategic decision making and operational implementation functions in policing, research can operate as a form of light to illuminate, for example in evaluations.
Research is guided by ethics, meaning that it will not be swayed by partisan or power interests, and, indeed may often report ‘uncomfortable truths’ – hence the saying speaking ‘knowledge to power’.
Trying to deliver accountability within commissioning without using a research approach is in fact tricky. Questions arise such as ‘why has that approach been awarded funding?’ and ‘how do we know something has worked?’. Given the pressures in policing there is an ongoing effort to get things right, first time, all the time. However, that’s at odds with the realities of life.
Syed (2015) explains well how success is often founded upon failure – in other words we learn and improve. To expect perfection in everything all the time, first time, is unrealistic and can, in the worst cases, result in defensiveness and a lack of openness.
Research is all about learning the truth, in a systematic and accountable way.
Respecting local autonomy is vital in the role of elected PCCs, who are responsible for particular geographies. Yet, many policing and crime issues are shared and experienced across multiple areas – meaning there is logic in sharing learning to mutually benefit understanding of what is happening, why and what to do about it.
The UK is fortunate to have a body that is driving an evidence-based approach to policing (The College of Policing) and other countries that do not have such a body are exploring how they too could emulate this approach.
Within the resources of the National Police Library and What Works Centre are valuable toolkits, supported by University College, London, to inform operational policing efficacy. To enhance that central structure, the College of Policing oversaw the investment of £10 million into the Police Knowledge Fund (PKF) to help grow a culture of knowledge and research in policing by stimulating local research collaborations.
EMPAC was one of 14 funded PKF collaborations. Some collaborations operated as a single force to a single university; others as a single university to a number of forces. EMPAC’s structure is regional, with 5 forces working with 8 universities.
Each approach showed pros and cons. EMPAC produced the largest number of research projects (19) and one of the reasons for that was the diversity of capability and capacity it could draw upon.
Like policing, knowledge knows no boundaries. Where an individual force restricts its research collaboration with a single institution (given how some academic work is competitive) it dilutes the potential richness that can be achieved through more collegiate approaches.
Single strand collaborations between someone in policing with someone in academia can be fickle and unsustainable, and moreover, funding bodes such as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Innovate UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) increasingly encourage both close links with practitioners, and a diversity of researchers across disciples and institutions, in awarding funding.
Speaking of diversity, EMPAC has the benefit of the East Midlands region, which offers a different social laboratory for innovation and enterprise than some of the previous national approaches that have been trialed, then rolled out, starting in London. With a coastline, an airport, major arterial roads and a great mix of rural and conurbation, the East Midlands is far more representative of the diversity of the country and this in turn helps replicability for research findings.
With eight universities, EMPAC has a local focus, with an eye on potential for wider up-scaleability, enabled by a network that is far bigger and more broad than any single university in the world and offering great economies of scale.
The ongoing operating model for EMPAC is to seek alignment over policing priorities with academic researcher interests, and where appropriate to bid together for external research funding. That approach can be seen, for example, in the University of Leicester’s successful ESRC award to tackle knife crime working with violence reduction units. Such approaches can then bring the whole region’s focus together and share learning in an accountable, scrutinised and transparent way.
The opportunity for the future
Since operational policing has tended to be very much in the cut and thrust of real-time threats to the public, there has at times been a tension between the pace that research can deliver at.
In many ways, this is about communication in that the expectations of exploring and finding ‘new knowledge’ can take time, whilst finding out what we may (between us) already know can save time by avoiding reinventing wheels.
There is much sense in aligning the commissioning of future research with the forward looking Police and Crime 4 year plans, as well as integrating and centralising (to avoid unnecessary duplication) efficacy testing evaluations to establish what works and tease out the learning for the region to share.
Where operational policing needs to know (now!) there is still the opportunity for quick-fire communication and rapid evidence reviews to inform what has already been trialed and tested, that can be applied quickly within policing. such communication is made all the easier through having an open, network of diverse researchers across disciplines and institutions, encouraged via the collegiate hub approach of EMPAC.
Finally, whilst here we have focused upon the benefits of research to accountability, scrutiny and transparency, here is an additional point to consider. Yesterday’s knowledge can be of use in many instances, but tomorrow has that tendency of bring us change. To equip PCCs in looking forward, as well as demonstrating a rationale of efficiency, a culture of innovation and enterprise gets us upstream, as well as being efficient today.
EMPAC, arguably punching above its weight, has created the new Innovation in Policing national competition working with its media partner, Police Professional. https://www.policeprofessional.com/feature/new-national-competition-for-police-innovation/. Whilst this started as a national venture supported by the College of Policing, it is now also attracting international attention from Canada, USA, the West Indies, Europe and Australia.
The intention is to make the East Midlands policing region a national and international exemplar and and to host an Innovation and Enterprise Policing Centre at Loughborough University where collegiate enquiry about the future of policing can thrive.
Regional PCCs have a collaboration now at its fingertips to monitor and drive the very best policing possible, utilising a powerful science-based approach whilst staying true to local public accountability.
The bottom line is it’s all about ensuring efficiency in policing and cutting crime!