In less than 3 weeks voters across Hastings and Rye will go to the polling station to pass judgement on the inaugural Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the first time.
This important vote gives us all the chance to influence how policing operates in our local area. It also enables us to have our say on local policing priorities and to ensure that local crime is taken seriously. The PCC scrutinises spending decisions, makes sure police misconduct is punished and holds the Chief Constable to account.
This local, democratic accountability in policing has brought real scrutiny, leadership and community engagement to local policing in a way that never existed before and I would like to use this column to encourage you all to vote on Thursday 5th May for our directly elected PCC for Sussex.
PCCs engage with the public in ways that police authorities never did or could. Through web-casts and public accountability meetings, like those pioneered in Sussex, the public are involved in examining the work of the Chief Constable. PCCs have commissioned reviews when there are specific areas of concern to local people; they have worked to protect vulnerable people and make sure they get the help and support they need and deserve; they have delivered value for money for taxpayers by finding efficiencies and overseeing how police budgets are spent.
These achievements really do matter to us and they matter for the integrity of the policing system as a whole.
Across the country, people will be heading to the polls to measure, for the first time, incumbent PCCs against their expectations for these duties. At a time when the character of policing and concerns over how the law is enforced are becoming ever more important, these elections and the role of the PCC provide us with a valuable opportunity to make our voice heard on these issues.
It is important not to forget that Sussex Police, its officers and civilian staff, do an excellent job. As your local MP I meet regularly with the force’s leadership and our own local PCC and I have the utmost respect for our local police force.
From the frontline and the neighbourhood teams in St Leonards, Hastings and Rye, right to the top of the force, we are in the hands of men and women who care deeply for our community and who have done excellent jobs in maintaining high quality services to the public whilst reducing costs. This has been reinforced by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which recognised Sussex Police as 'good' across the board – one of only five forces across the country to achieve this. It was praised for its work supporting vulnerable victims, stopping re-offending, tackling serious and organised crime and communicating with its communities, particularly through effective use of social media.
But I know that the Sussex Police are keen to build on these successes and have launched a positive forward plan to 2020. This will see improved digital and counter-terrorism capabilities but with local policing at its heart; Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) with enhanced skills and powers will form part of a wider prevention team to focus on those who are vulnerable and to tackle local concerns.
There are currently PCSO vacancies. To find out more, visit: https://www.sussex.police.uk/jobs/pcsos/
The last time people voted for their local PCC, the turnout was disappointing. Over the last three and half years, PCCs across the country have proved the importance of the role: they have hired and fired chief constables, set local priorities, overseen budgets of hundreds of millions of pounds, and they have helped to keep us safe.
The historic principle of policing by consent is an important one and I encourage you all to go and vote on May 5th.