This article is written in a personal capacity only…
It is a vital plank of democracy that we have a police service that is fully accountable to elected officials. From the role of the Home Secretary in setting national policy objectives, to the crucial input of local police boards, the UK prides itself on keeping a deep and lasting connectivity between those who enforce the law, and the people who they are serving.
An excellent example of this is the fact that the UK police are virtually unique in the world for not routinely carrying firearms. As a result we have far less gun crime than say the USA where 12,000 citizens die in firearms related incidents each year. The figures in the UK have never exceeded 70 in any one-year. Only three major nations can boast a lower rate of gun deaths.
Police boards ensure that the voice of local people is heard, and that central Government cannot dictate and interfere with local processes without good reason.
In 2004 Home Secretary David Blunkett attempted to suspend Humberside Chief Constable David Westwood in the wake of acknowledged mistakes relating to the services handling of intelligence data. Police board Chairman Colin Inglis refused to comply with Blunkett’s request as he and the Board members felt that the Home Secretary’s demand was uncalled for. Inglis was vindicated when the High Court backed his stance, thereby proving that local democracy really counted.
The Tories, in their wisdom have passed legislation to get rid of a proven system of accountability and replace the boards with a directly elected police and crime commissioner backed up with a slimmed down board. We in the Labour Party initially opposed this move for a variety of reasons, not least the cost, which Home Secretary Theresa May admitted in December would be “at least £25 million”.
Nevertheless the elections will take place in November 2012, and we in the Labour Party need to ensure that we select the right candidate, and ensure that they win at the ballot box in the autumn.
Keith Hunter is the man for the job in my opinion.
As a former Divisional Commander in Hull (amongst other things) I can understand why regular readers of this drivel will be taken aback that I have chosen to support a former police officer.
Whilst it is true that I have been very critical of the Boys (and girls, Cressida Dick) in relation to Hillsborough, the Lawrence murder, the slaying of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Miner Strike and Operation Pre Empt, I have also been at pains to point out that all the above problems arose not from malfeasance (by and large) from individual officers, but from a rotten culture being at play.
When police services are well led and democratically monitored, and implementing progressive policies then good things happen.
The last Labour Government was told by the likes of Michael Howard that it would be impossible to deliver falling crime rates year on year. And yet over the course of the 13 years that Labour was in power, crime fell by a staggering 40% according to the British Crime Survey whose figures are the accepted benchmark.
Keith Hunter was Commander of D Division in Hull, which includes some of the most challenging wards in England, for four years. When compared with Portsmouth, which has a correlation with Hull in socio economic terms, crime levels there remained roughly the same, with some increases, whilst at the same time Hunter was reducing crime by a monumental 40% in his division.
That fall epitomises Hunter’s no nonsense approach to everyday crime, “You have to deliver outcomes for the law-abiding. I haven’t got any sympathy for criminals, I have sympathy for the victims of crime.” I don’t want to understand why criminals commit offences, I want criminals to understand what impact their offending has on their victims.”
As Socialists it is surely our duty to argue for, and back tough but fair policing as victims of crime are largely working class, and the areas where crime is more of a problem are working class ones.
But equally we have to back the truism of that famous sound bite from Tony Blair, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Hunter played a full part on delivering on this policy by taking a zero tolerance approach to hate crime. Homophobia, and abuse of vulnerable people was considered unfortunate, but not necessarily a police matter. And this was reflected in a reluctance of people to report such offences, but Keith created and encouraged a culture where his officers were adamant that hate crime offenders were relentlessly pursued and there would be no hiding place for the perpetrators.
Keith Hunter passed all his exams to become a Chief Constable, the top ranked police officer in any force, which is an elite position paying up to £100K. But as he told the Hull Daily Mail he felt constrained by being a serving officer, “I genuinely believe I can have more of an impact and more influence as a police and crime commissioner on the lives of the people being outside of the Association of Chief Police Officers.”
So instead of taking the establishment coin, Hunter has decided to follow the high-risk strategy of running for elected office independent of the comfort zone provided by the uniform in order to put his values and vision for policing into action.
Not only is Hunter tuned into the needs of the community from his role as Commander which regularly involved being out on the streets and meeting real people and listening to their needs, but he has the necessary experience of dealing with budgets and the bean counters, vital in these constrained times. Indeed Keith was one of the few senior officers to put their head above the turret when the Coalition Government announced brutal cuts to police finance.
Responding in June 2011 to Chancellor George Osborne’s cuts of 20% to policing Hunter said, ““It creates a perfect storm – people are being made redundant, unemployment is going up, offenders aren’t going to prison for as long and the probation service has been slashed. The police service is being cut so our ability to catch people and lock them up is affected. People can make their own judgement about what is likely to happen because of that.”
Hunter’s political allegiances were barely concealed when he said in the same interview, ““The reason for asking for the savings over two years is purely political. It gets the pain out of the way, with space before the next general election.”
Being an active member of a political Party and Hunter’s rank made it an impossible circle to square, but as soon as he was able Keith Hunter came to his local Labour Party Branch meetings and has impressed the members with his quiet and thoughtful contributions to the lively debates that are the meat and drink of our B/CLP meetings.
I personally am looking forward to a keen and lively debate amongst comrades across the region as we look forward to selecting our candidate and making the argument for Labour values and policies being enacted in Humberside.
Good luck to all the candidates, and lets make the most of this opportunity to listen to the needs of our community!