POLITICAL rivals in Northumberland clashed yesterday over controversial plans to hand control of the region’s biggest police force to an American-style elected commissioner.
The Government’s proposal for a Northumbria Police commissioner – elected by local people on the strength of his or her policing policies – has already been criticised by a number of former police chiefs and politicians in the North East.
Yesterday Northumberland County Council leader Jeff Reid claimed the move would be a tragedy for rural policing in the county and claimed the region was in danger of sleepwalking into the politicisation of the police.
But Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman said it would give people a clear voice on how their local communities should be policed.
The plan for elected police commissioners is part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which is currently going through Parliament. It is hoped to gain royal assent later this year, with the first commissioners elected in 2012.
Critics have urged ministers to rethink moves to allow one person to control policing in an area stretching from Berwick to Sunderland.
Yesterday Coun Reid, who leads the minority Lib-Dem administration in Northumberland, said the Northumbria commissioner’s prospects of re-election would depend on winning votes in staunch Labour areas, where most people in the North East live. He said the post- holder would have no incentive to deliver for people in Northumberland.
“An elected commissioner would be a bad thing for Northumberland, and a tragedy for rural policing. I believe it would lead to less accountability because the priority would be to get re-elected in Newcastle and Sunderland.
“A commissioner would almost certainly be a Labour Party nominee; what incentive would there be for that person to do the best for Northumberland?
“The bureaucracy created to service a commissioner could cost upwards of £1m at a time when police numbers and resources are under pressure.”
Mr Opperman said: “Elected police and crime commissioners will give the public a clear voice on policing in their community. Chief officers will be liberated to be crime-fighters rather than government managers.
“The big change is that the public will get the policing it wants and needs. All public servants are responsible to those that they serve. I am as an MP, and the police should be too. We work for the public at the end of the day, not the other way round. The politicians opposed to these reforms would do well to remember that.”
Home Secretary Theresa May has claimed 41 new elected police commissioners would not cost any more than the existing police authorities which they would replace.
Under the plans, elections would be held every four years starting in 2012. Major concerns have been voiced in the North East about asking one person to decide policing policy for areas as diverse as Byker and Hexham.
Chief officers will be liberated to be crime-fighters rather than government managers