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Battle over elected commissioners

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Police authorities have come out fighting over plans to replace their organisations with directly elected commissioners.

Councillor Rob Garnham (Con), chair of the Association of Police Authorities (APA), has warned home secretary Theresa May that “the gloves are off” if she pursues the controversial plan.

“This is something we don’t want and don’t support, and something the public won’t support either,” said Cllr Garnham.

The Conservatives believe directly elected commissioners would make police forces more accountable. Opponents say the plans risk politicising the police service, and warn that elected commissioners will be focused on winning votes rather than on national and regional priorities, such as terrorism, or on savings measures, such as joined-up IT projects.

The result could be “a battle between the commissioner and the chief constable”, Cllr Garnham warned.

He argued that police authorities, with their mix of councillors and nominated individuals, can listen to the electorate and see the national picture as well. They have also proved they can save money and are “ideally placed” to find £1bn of efficiencies by 2014.

The association has indicated that it would consider alternative reforms to police accountability - such as a mix of elected and independent authority members, as put forward by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto. “If it is just about visibility … that can be addressed”, said Cllr Garnham.

He also warned of a potential exodus of top police staff. “I have spoken with chief constables who would rather resign than be told what to do by an elected commissioner,” he said.

“There is a groundswell of influential bodies who do not see this working,” he added, citing the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Local Government Association.

However, the LGA refused to comment and Acpo president Sir Hugh Orde said he was waiting for details of the proposal.

“We’ve had a positive first meeting with the new home secretary and we look forward to working closely with her,” he added.

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