Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore explains how he's held to account
Most people are aware of how important local policing is for our collective safety and wellbeing.
We are fortunate to live and work in a low crime county and maintaining this favourable environment does present significant challenges for our police especially as the pattern of crime is continually evolving and becoming more complex.
Whilst Suffolk Constabulary is a small rural force in comparison to other areas it is, nevertheless, a large Suffolk organisation with a budget in excess of £150 million with around 2,500 officers, staff and volunteers.
As your Police and Crime Commissioner, two of my most important responsibilities are ensuring Suffolk Police is an efficient and effective force and holding the Chief Constable to account for operational policing. I am frequently asked how this responsibility is delivered and how I am held to account for my actions, notwithstanding the democratic mandate all elected police commissioners have. I’d like to take this opportunity explain the main features for both processes.
My team and I have regular contact with senior officers often on a daily basis and we have a formal weekly meeting. However, the most high-profile occasion is the bi-monthly Accountability and Performance Panel. These meetings are held in public (anyone may attend) and are attended by the Chief Constable and other senior officers, plus members of the Suffolk Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. All papers tabled are published in advance on our website and are written by the Constabulary. I hope you agree this maximises transparency which is so crucial for maintaining public confidence in policing. That said, there are a very small number of operationally confidential items discussed at the end of the panel that are not published for obvious reasons. At the start of each panel there is an opportunity for public questions.
The agendas can vary considerably but at most panels there is a comprehensive and detailed report on performance monitoring. The topics discussed include domestic abuse, emergency calls, roads policing, rural crime as well as updates on officer and staff recruitment and other human resources information. If areas need improvement or development, there is an agreed action list and an update received by the following panel meeting. One report always publicised (without exception) is the financial update – this is particularly important as the force must always live within its means since you cannot spend money you don’t have!
Occasionally other agencies contribute to the written reports such as the six-monthly paper on the use of Stop and Search by Suffolk Police when the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) make a valuable contribution accordingly. At other times some of our grant and commissioning recipients present items for discussion such as the Suffolk Town Pastors or Positive Futures.
The analysis of correspondence and subjects raised at our series of public engagements and presentations is also very helpful in providing a focus on what matters to residents across the county. Comments on communication via 101, visibility, detection rates and drug related offences all assist me on holding the Chief Constable to account and ensure there is the right focus and balance within the resources available.
Throughout the year I am personally scrutinised by the Suffolk Police and Crime Panel. This panel convenes in public four times each year and is able to ask me any strategic questions they wish on our policing and commissioning work. The panel comprises 13 members – two are independent and the remaining 11 are appointed from Suffolk’s six local authority councillors and is also politically balanced and is administered by County Council staff. The panel has two main powers – agreeing or vetoing the annual budget and level of your policing Council Tax, and the appointment of new Chief Constables. I enjoy these meetings as it provides an excellent opportunity to explain how decision- making can be complex and the rationale for local policing and commissioning priorities.
Overall there are many checks and balances which, coupled with good governance, help ensure the Chief and me really do have that continuing focus on keeping Suffolk a safe county in which to live, work, travel and invest. Full details of my role and the role of the Police and Crime Panel are available on my website, www.suffolk-pcc.gov.uk – take a look.