MAYOR ON WEDNESDAY: Have a say as to who runs police

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IN just over a month’s time, Hartlepool goes to the polls not only for a referendum on the mayoral system but also to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who will replace the Police Authority and be responsible for the governance of the police force in Cleveland.

The Government’s idea behind the introduction of PCCs is to bring more direct accountability to the police force and to give the public a direct say in who holds the purse strings and sets the priorities for policing.

There are many similarities to the mayoral model of governance for local authorities, especially in respect of transparency and accountability.

And with the on-going investigation into a number of people previously responsible for the governance of Cleveland police, it could be argued that a PCC is just what we need to restore some of the trust and confidence of the public.

With only a few days left until the deadline for candidate declarations, there are only four candidates who have expressed an interest so far.

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I have been asked many times if I will be standing and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

I think the role of the PCC is going to be an extremely interesting one, and having the unique experience of knowing what it is like to be directly elected and how to govern a police force already, I believe it is a role that I could perform successfully.

Sadly, the way the Government has organised these elections, it makes it extremely difficult for an independent candidate to put up a meaningful campaign.

The deposit alone is £5,000 and with half a million households in the Cleveland area, the costs of even producing one leaflet per household are astronomical.

So unless someone has a spare couple of hundred thousand quid lying around, virtually all independent candidates are going to end up as also-rans.

I must admit that deciding factor in my decision not to stand has been the on-going investigations around Operation Sacristy.

The last six months at the police authority has been undoubtedly the most difficult and stressful I have ever experienced.

There have been times when I would not have wished the situation on my worst enemies.

I’m glad that things are starting to move towards a conclusion, and last week’s sacking of the Chief Constable for two counts of gross misconduct marked a big step forward in bringing things to a resolution.

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the end and the criminal investigations will continue.

I cannot comment too much on the details of the disciplinary process at the moment, as the outcome could still be subject to an appeal, however I can say that the two counts which the Chief Constable were dismissed on were not actually part of Operation Sacristy.

There were 18 other charges of gross misconduct related to Operation Sacristy that will now be dropped because the sanction, if found guilty, would have been dismissal and a person can’t be sacked more than once.

I’ve heard a few people say the sacking of Sean Price for just trying to get someone a job was a bit harsh. The accusation of him using inappropriate influence in a recruitment process was unfounded, that was not what he was sacked for.

He was dismissed for lying to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and, more seriously, getting a member of staff to lie on his behalf.

Honesty and integrity are integral to the role of any police officer and the consequences of being dishonest are abundantly clear.

Sean Price has maintained his innocence throughout. But the fact is, no one in his position should ever even give people cause to suspect a single case of misconduct against them, let alone give people cause to bring 20 separate charges of gross misconduct against them.

In the fullness of time, details of the other charges will be made public and people will see the seriousness of the whole situation.

That said, I’m pleased that public confidence in Cleveland police remains the highest in the country. The officers on the front line continue to do a fantastic job.

Neighbourhood policing is more effective than ever and crime levels are among the lowest they have eve been.

The police authority has recently been inspected to the hilt and received, not only a clean bill of health, but glowing compliments on our readiness for the transition to the PCC.

I feel I can take some personal satisfaction that, with the excellent work of the police authority staff, the temporary chief constable and police authority members, we can hand over an organisation to the new commissioner that is now very well run, producing results and has a plan for the future.

Getting to this point seemed like an impossible task just over a year ago. Now, the new PCC will be able to get on and concentrate on continuing to reduce crime and improving public accountability and not have to worry about inheriting a failing organisation.

The role of a PCC is a fantastic opportunity for someone and I hope they get the credibility they deserve by there being a decent turn out in the election.

It is hugely important that we, as the public ,take our opportunity to have our say and cast our vote on who should be running the police force.

Along with the mayoral system, a Police and Crime Commissioner is the only chance we get to have a direct say in the person holding the purse strings.

Please remember to cast your vote on November 15.