Murnaghan 12.02.12 Interview Sir High Orde, President of ACPO, on elected police commissioners

February 12, 2012


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Let’s talk now to the President of Association of Chief Police Officers, he is of course Sir Hugh Orde. Well Sir Hugh, would you resign if someone like John Prescott became a Police Commissioner?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Well as a matter of clarity, what I said was I would resign if operational independence of a Chief Police Officer was compromised and what this government has been extremely clear about to the point of enshrining it in the protocol in the Bill is that Chief Officers will remain responsible for operational decision making, held to account by an entirely new process where 17 members of a Police Authority will be replaced as you heard from Lord Prescott, by one individual elected by the local communities across the whole police area.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: But the danger is, isn’t it, and we’re not talking about Lord Prescott now, but given the number of police commissioners that would be elected, that there could be a few of them that have agendas?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Well I suspect that they will all have agendas, they have to be elected so they have to have a manifesto.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: But they may want to meddle on a day to day basis and the difficulty is finding out where it is a strategic issue or if it is to do with calls, with a person ringing up the police commissioner and saying look, I waited 45 minutes. Can they intervene on that or do they have to intervene if there are many more of them?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Well I think the first point to make is that we would like to think that the vast majority of the relationships will be very mature ones where strategic direction of a service absolutely is the responsibility of the Police and Crime Commissioner and indeed Police Authorities set policing plans now which Chief Constables have to take very seriously in determining priorities. That doesn’t really change. I think one of the challenges will be of course that the deciding electorate will tend to focus the debate on the local issues – the response times, the number of officers on the street. Of course Chief Constables in this country through ACPO are also responsible for delivering the national agenda, the national threats, the organised crime, the riots you saw, the public order where we move people around the country and again government has taken notice of our concern and within the Bill, the strategic policing requirement will require Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables to make sure that the national agenda is dealt with as well. There are of course potentially tensions within that relationship.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: We’ve often heard from the police, and you know about it more than anyone else almost, that a lot goes on below the radar so to speak, that the public don’t really know about but of course like the end results – undercover operations, whatever it may be, but if you have an elected commissioner, they’re there because of antisocial behaviour, because of graffiti, police resources get swayed.

SIR HUGH ORDE: That’s a matter again where the Chief Constable has to make those really difficult decisions of how much of my policing resource can I put into local policing, how much can I put into national policing, as you rightly identify. The key national threats to this country at the moment identified by this government are not local crime, which is hugely important to every Chief Constable, it’s where you build confidence, but it’s international terrorism and cyber-crime, where I was at a conference only last week. So we have to get that balance right. It is entirely right that we are challenged about that balance and currently that is done through Police Authorities, in the new world it will be done by Police and Crime Commissioners but I do think we need to recognise though that this change is probably the biggest change to policing since 1829 because for the first time a directly elected person, many of which will be of course on a party ticket – not all but it is reasonable to predict, have been introduced into the policing model. That’s why the checks and balances are very important, that’s why operational independence is very important and that’s why the strategic policing requirement is very important.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Is it the politicisation then of that model?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Providing Chiefs are prepared to have sensible, rational and robust conversations and say that is an operational decision for which I will be held to account having made it, I think we will be okay. I am fairly confident that the quality of people standing will be of a mettle that can deal with that but we will have to wait and see so there are some things yet to be sorted out, but at the moment where the government has taken the Bill, there are some checks, there are some balances, with the exception of the power to hire and fire a Chief which will be vested very much in one individual.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: You say in the real world you end up with one Police Commissioner where there used to be a board, a Police Authority, you have potentially very small turn outs and as Labour said when they were opposing the Bill, you have a situation where you could get someone from a fairly extreme position perhaps manipulating themselves into that post. That would be a huge problem for the police, would it not?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Well it would be but I don't think that’s probably realistic. There are going to be 41 Police and Crime Commissioners, for 41 of the 44 police forces, the City of London, the Metropolitan police and my old force in Northern Ireland don’t fall within this Bill. They are very large constituencies, Devon and Cornwall will have one Police and Crime Commissioner, West Yorkshire – two and a half million people, will have one Police and Crime Commissioner, so it’s unlikely I think that an extreme party could get in but you are right, it is a possibility and it would be very difficult for a service where members of a police service are not allowed to belong to the British National Party, it is a disciplinary office, if someone like that got in. But I think we need to be realistic, I think that is highly unlikely.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: And finally Sir Hugh can I just get your view on, and Lord Prescott was touching on it there given what he’s been through when it comes to phone hacking, the alacrity with which it now seems that the Metropolitan police is investigating those claims of payments to police and phone hacking itself. It has taken a long while, do you think they have been a bit slow to get to the mark?

SIR HUGH ORDE: Well I think that’s a matter for the Metropolitan police rather than for me but what I would say though is that the relentless pursuit of the very small number, if any, of individuals who have taken payments, shows how strongly we will not tolerate bad behaviour by the police service. I will be giving evidence to Leveson who of course is looking at a far wider issue, not just payments to the police, but I am confident, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector recently reported, that we have a pretty uncorrupt police service in this country. There are 140,000 cops out there whose basic priority is to keep citizens safe, they will not tolerate it, they will support fully any investigation to take out that tiny minority that give us, do such damage to the integrity of the service and I commend the Met for pursuing it so strongly.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Sir Hugh Orde, thank you very much indeed.

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