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‘Chiefs Vulnerable To PCCs’ - Chief Constable

West Yorkshire Police chief constable, Sir Norman Bettison, raises measured concerns over the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners

Up and coming chief constables could be made to feel vulnerable in their jobs by Police and Crime Commissioners – and there is also the potential for their integrity to be put at risk, the chief constable of West Yorkshire police has said.

Sir Norman Bettison said the next generation of chief constables might come under pressure from PCCs to make certain decisions – due to the fact that PCCs will hold their “career in the palm” of their hands.

¬It is impossible to say no or difficult to say no to a Police and Crime Commissioner who holds your career in the palm of his or her hand.¬

The “unfettered power” of PCCs to suspend or dismiss chief constables could make them feel particularly vulnerable when managing risks – especially when things go occasionally wrong.

But speaking exclusively to PoliceOracle.com at the ACPO Summer Conference in Manchester, Sir Norman said despite these concerns he would do his best to ensure a Police and Crime Commissioner succeeded in West Yorkshire. He said they would become “third-party advocates” for the Police Service and cheerleaders in their own right – which could only be positive.

He said: “I owe it to the people I lead and the people I serve to ensure they (PCCs) are delivering on that mandate.”

Sir Norman said he supported the proposal for PCCs to swear an oath when coming into office – to give the best possible chance of their relationship with chief constables working.

But he said: “That is as good as it can get as a promise – that they will act impartially, fairly and doing everything for the public good.

“But if they are going to be Machiavellian some oath will not stop them.”

Sir Norman said he was not referring to CCs such as himself, who had years of experience and were familiar with their jobs – but younger CCs who were up and coming in the Police Service and had a mortgage to pay and a family to provide for.

He said: “The PCC has the unfettered power to suspend and dismiss – I don’t think that power exists in certainly any other public sector environment – and in which we are managing risk on a day to day basis.
“Our job is to manage risks across the spectrum taking professional decisions.

“On that basis from time to time a major risk could always bite us in the backside and the Police and Crime Commissioner with the unfettered power could make chief officers feel vulnerable.”

Sir Norman said the integrity of policing had rested with the professionals since 1829 but chief officers might come under pressure “to do things that are at best partial”.

He said: “Therefore the way the relationship is structured doesn’t make it easy for the professional to say no (to a PCC direction/proposal).

“Nine times out of ten that (decision) may be the right thing for the public but perhaps only one section of the public or even individuals or single communities - it is impossible to say no or difficult to say no to a Police and Crime Commissioner who holds your career in the palm of his or her hand.”

Concerns were also raised at the conference on May 22 regarding the campaigning of PCC candidates in the upcoming November elections– and their interpretation of crime statistics and information relating to force areas.

Sir Norman said West Yorkshire police had provided a wealth of clear information on its website for candidates so they each had access to the same details.

But he said he would not be drawn into arguments with candidates over the interpretation of that information.

He said: “We cannot get into arguments about interpretation at the time of a public election.”

He also added that he believed voters would become more interested in the elections as they drew closer. An Ipsos MORI poll showed at the conference that currently only 40 per cent of the public were aware of the PCC elections.

But Sir Norman said a “storm” of campaigning was still possible – and it would be interesting to see if some candidates campaigned on single issues.

He said: “That would be interesting to see if they can get a sufficient vote out on single issues.”

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