Senior officers should be barred from standing as police and crime commissioners for a “cooling-off” period of four years after leaving their force, MPs reviewing some of the most radical reforms to policing in 50 years have said.
The restriction would help avoid any conflicts of interests where holders of the controversial new role were scrutinising decisions they made while still in office, the MPs said.
The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee also warned there was a need for the concept of operational responsibility to be clarified, with police – not politicians – being “solely responsible for individual decisions with respect to arrest and investigation”.
They added that, while police and crime commissioners could help hand power back to the public, this was not inevitable and would depend both on the job description set by Government and who takes up these roles.
“The concern would be that if police and crime commissioners could not cope with the workload, or could not successfully represent the entire force area, the public’s opportunities to engage with the police might get worse rather than better,” they said.
The committee recommended that police and crime commissioners are given a support team to help them cope with the expected increase in letters and emails from the public, “otherwise there is a risk that public engagement will turn to public disillusionment”.
The controversial move to replace existing police authorities and put locally-elected police and crime commissioners in charge of multimillion-pound force budgets with the power to sack chief constables was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May in July.
The committee said there should be no restrictions on who can stand for the role when the first elections are held in May 2012. But it suggested a cooling-off period of four years – the equivalent of one term for a police and crime commissioner – for a former officer, ranked as assistant chief constable or above, who wants to stand in the same area in which he or she has served.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said the move was “to ensure that there is not the slightest hint of a conflict of interest between a former chief constable and the area he or she policed”.
The report added that the issues of operational independence, operational responsibility and the role and powers of police and crime panels all “need further attention”.The committee also recommended that it would be a better use of public money if these panels were used as a means of providing advice for the commissioners before final decisions are made, as opposed to setting them up as a separate scrutiny body examining decisions after they have already been taken.