NORTHUMBRIA’s first police commissioner has held talks with the chief constable over jailed rapist PC Stephen Mitchell.
Within days of taking office Vera Baird held a high-level meeting to discuss two recent issues in which the Independent Police Complaints Commission was involved.
The first was the Mitchell incident, in which the Northumbria PC was last year ordered to serve two life sentences for the rape and sexual assault of vulnerable women he met on the beat. Another IPCC issue involved a general overview of custody conditions in Northumbria.
The meetings are the first sign that the newly elected police commissioner will not be taking a back seat role in the force, with chief constable Sue Sim expected to be frequently grilled by her new boss on policing issues. The meetings came to light as Ms Baird this week met with the policing and crime panel for the first time to go over scrutiny arrangements for the top job.
The crime panel is made up of council leaders, councillors and some independent members tasked with overseeing the commissioners role.
At their first meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre this week the panel were given an update on the first few days of the new role by Ms Baird.
Heading off concerns from some Northumberland councillors that the commissioner job will not serve rural areas as well as it does the cities, Ms Baird said she was keen to address rural crime. She told the panel: “We will have to get out into the rural areas and meet people there to see what can be done for their unique needs.
“It is the reality of elections that you go to where most people are, and that is to our cities and urban areas, but I’m aware that Northumberland in its rural areas faces some unique issues and I want to get out their, and to Alnwick and Berwick, as soon as possible to start hearing those views.”
In a break from previous police authority meetings there were no police officers present at the meeting, which will meet some six times a year.
The panel was asked to agree the appointment of former Northumbria area commander Mark Dennett as Ms Baird’s deputy, a £60,000-a-year post.
Some local authority members have privately questioned the wisdom of bringing in a former police officer, questioning whether he will be a voice of the public or the police.
Mr Dennett comes to the job with a impressive CV which includes 10 years as one of the force’s most senior managers. His new role will see him support Ms Baird in issues across the force, including spending priorities for increasingly scarce funds.
Ms Baird is set to start work on the budget immediately, heading up to a March deadline.