In November 2012, Mark Burns-Williamson was elected by the public as the first West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and was given responsibility for the way in which policing is delivered in West Yorkshire. We are grateful that he took the time to come and talk to the Club this week.
Mark explained how his office has replaced the old West Yorkshire Police Authority, of which he had been chairman since 2003. The principle advantage of the new system is direct accountability to the public: not only is he elected, but he is able to have direct contact with the public e.g. through advice surgeries, in a way impossible under the previous faceless committee system. An additional advantage is that decisions can be made much more swiftly than they used to be.
Operational responsibility remains in the hands of the Chief Constable. The role of the PCC involves setting policing priorities through a Police and Crime Plan and then spending the police budget in a way that addresses these priorities. Mark told us that budget constraints mean that in the current year he is only able to recruit 82 new police officers, rather than the 250-300 recruited in previous years. He told us of the challenges faced by responding to terrorism, human trafficking and historic cases of child sexual abuse.
We were interested to hear that West Yorkshire have taken on responsibility for the national police air services, ensuring that all 92 police areas have access to air support within 20 minutes of an incident. Other successes under Mark’s watch include setting up a ‘safer cities fund’ which receives funds clawed back from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and spends on community groups dealing with domestic abuse, youth diversion and victims’ services. There has also been the biggest recruitment drive ever for special constables and police community support officers.
In a wide ranging question and answer session, Mark dealt with Rotarians’ concerns on topics such as speed cameras, firearms, recruitment, terrorism, and a hot potato – the lack of ability to remove a Police and Crime Commissioner for incompetence!
In giving the vote of thanks, Mike Fox made it clear that the latter question did not apply to our speaker, ‘one of the most dynamic Police and Crime Commisioners to have been elected’.