Police and crime commissioners will be introduced later this year. Andrew Morley FRSA, previously chief executive to the London Criminal Justice Partnership, argues that they have the potential to systemise the kind of partnership working required to respond to crime.
The policy debate about the role of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) has shifted and the proposal to extend their role from just police oversight – as originally proposed – to a broader role around reducing crime is very welcome. This is more likely to enable the holistic and intelligent response that crime requires.
PCCs will have the significant advantage of being able speak to the citizen experience of crime and the criminal justice system rather than to the agency contribution to it.
This could be powerful in helping to overcome traditional tensions and should bring sense and clarity to what remains a disjointed system. PCCs will need to explain to their electorate what a whole system response involves and this will throw up challenging questions for justice services and other agencies involved.
Clearly, PCCs role will be very broad and early on they will need to identify priorities and areas of focus. Three areas would benefit from early attention. First, accountability. There are plenty of examples where agencies and others come together but where partnership is piecemeal and almost exclusively initiative-focused. All too often these approaches break down because of a lack of a central point of accountability.
This matters. It militates against a whole system approach to service delivery and can, in rare and extreme cases, have tragic consequences. PCCs will operate in a complex environment with a mix of local, regional and national agencies delivering a service that quite rightly has independent decision-making around prosecution and sentencing. PCCs, aided by their powers to convene partnerships, could provide a focal point for collective accountability for delivery of local crime reduction and criminal justice activity.
Critically, accountability should be for delivery of ‘activity’ against agreed partnership priorities. It would not replace existing, and in many cases statutory, arrangements. It might also allow for rationalisation of partnership structures that are numerous and often encourage duplication and delay.
Second, the use of data. Agencies involved in crime sit on a lot of information and could to more to exploit it more effectively. They can map crime: they know where and when it happens; they know where offenders live and, increasingly, what their needs are; and who is likely to be victimised and how often. This could be invaluable in determining priorities and plans; as would further monitoring of implementation, including the difficult but necessary task of holding contributing agencies to account for delivery.
Typically monitoring arrangements and data are about the health of processes but PCC’s will need to demonstrate impact every four years. I suspect that most will quickly commission independent public attitudinal surveys to track and evidence impact.
This provides an opportunity for forging a new relationship with the academic community, working with academics to design monitoring arrangements that speak to the effectiveness of processes whilst also informing the evidence base for effective practice. This might require a recalibration of the relationship between the operational and academic sides. It may mean giving academics the necessary time and unfettered access to operational data. It should also mean less reliance on flagship project evaluations and the use of data to lever in funding from other sources.
This data should inform broader social inclusion activity. The relationship between crime and deprivation is well evidenced. We hold a wealth of information about offender needs and use this to inform interventions with individuals, but we do not use aggregate data well enough to inform broader local planning around social inclusion. The local mandate of PCCs could prove to be a powerful contributor to these kinds of discussions, ensuring, for example, that provision was available and accessible to ex-offenders or those at risk of committing crime.
The third priority for PPCs should be innovation. Crime, its causes and solutions, is complex. PPCs should be able to brigade partnership responses to the issues that require it and be free to try new approaches. They could for example be hugely influential in bringing together the right people to develop the model of community prison and ‘through the gate’ provision as set out in the recent RSA Transitions report.
But when it comes to innovation, the PCC should be mindful of three things.
Firstly, ensuring that activity is consistent with the evidence base. I am not advocating a return to a ‘what works’ agenda; the one thing we can say with any confidence is that no one tactic works with everyone all the time. Further, some would argue that the evidence tells us more about what does not work, than what does. However, innovation for its own sake can backfire; activity will always benefit from understanding what the evidence tells us.
Secondly, there is a need to develop monitoring and evaluation that allows for rapid feedback loops, so it is possible to quickly identify if something is having a positive impact.
Finally, thought needs to be given to what arrangements are in place for scaling up activity if it does appear to work. The local focus will help with this as nationally driven innovation has tended to be stifled by over caution and bureaucracy.
Of course, funding is always important. Although the amount of money available has been significantly reduced, the fact that all crime reduction money will be channelled through PCC’s should help direct resources to where they are most needed. The power to also make grants for crime reduction activity – on top of the policing budget – will provide a good starting point. However, PCC’s will need to explore alternative sources of funding and should be free to be entrepreneurial in this respect.
The introduction of PCC’s brings with it a real opportunity to build on existing partnership work but with a view to systemising it across all the agencies involved in reducing crime. We need to continue to reduce crime, make our communities safer and transform the citizen experience of criminal justice. PCCs might just provide the catalyst for this.
Andrew Morley is a senior visiting Fellow at the Institute of Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck College and advises on crime and justice issues. He is former chief executive of the London Criminal Justice Partnership and was a Senior Civil Servant at the Home Office.