Policing Matters

Tomorrow for the first time there will be elections for local police commissioners. AYAZ MANJI wants us to take them seriously.

Ayaz Manji elections local elections police voting

As far as I can tell American police commissioners have always seemed incredibly cool. They’re often from the 40s and inevitably want to reign in some maverick cop whilst drinking scotch and spouting politically incorrect put-downs. Sometimes they’re Gary Oldman and they nearly always pick the wrong week to quit smoking.

But that’s probably not reason enough to be excited about the upcoming elections for local police commissioners in Cambridge. Isn’t it a bit weird to think that we know best about the minutiae of policing the country? I’m all for developing democracy but I don’t think there is or should be anything party political about deciding how to fund and organise police on a local level.

The kinds of decisions a commissioner has to make are difficult and they’re contentious and it’s hard to see how a political affiliation and ties to a party will make anybody any better at it. If you have to choose between funding initiatives to police domestic abuse or put more money into investigating rural crime, I don’t want you to know that a certain kind of victim is more likely to vote for you than another.

If you look at the manifestos of the UKIP and English Democrat candidates there’s barely anything controversial there. It’s the same old stuff about making policing more accountable, targeting criminals not targets, and going on to ensure world peace. I mean what could they say? Double sentences for criminals who look a bit foreign? The manifestos don’t give us a chance to know what a candidate’s like because they never do. And that’s what we’re voting for, a person. There are no grand policy decisions that police commissioners can make but they have a lot of resources at their disposal, a strong voice, a large budget and we really should care about who they are.

What’s really scary is that with turnout tomorrow predicted to be incredibly low, we could really end up screwed. We could wake up on a Friday with a commissioner who comes from a party that still thinks it’s a significant priority for this country to annex a bit of Wales. And that’s because we’re so disinterested that the only kind of people who do turn out to vote are the kind of people who spend their lives coveting bits of Wales.

This is possibly the most unromantic plea for democratic action you’re likely to see. This isn’t Samuel L Jackson telling you to wake up because the world’s at stake. This isn’t an epic battle between good and evil, it’s the truth about democracy in action. People are being asked to vote on something they shouldn’t have been asked to vote about. The information we have to go on is practically no information at all.  What matters is that a lot of power and money might go to someone who wants things that no reasonable person does.  What matters is that the person responsible for protecting us should at least have some experience of it.

So take some time, look some things up and tomorrow go to a ballot box and vote.