New elected police chiefs ‘could break law and keep their jobs’

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An elected police commissioner could attack a chief constable or steal his car without being suspended under new laws designed to make crime-fighting more accountable, it has been warned.

Voters will go to the polls next November to elect Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) with the power to hire and fire chief constables and set policing priorities for four years.

But many of the electorate may be unaware that the person they vote for could carry on working even after being charged with criminal offences.

West Yorkshire Police Authority, which is to be scrapped as part of the controversial changes, heard yesterday that there were “oddities” in the laws approved by Parliament.

The warning came from the authority’s chief executive, Fraser Sampson, a trained solicitor who has written several books about police law.

He told members: “There are some oddities within the primary legislation which will require working out – for instance, the grounds on which a PCC can be suspended.

“The starting point on this is being charged with an offence in the UK that carries two or more years’ imprisonment. That leaves room for many offences which do not carry that sentence, including assaulting a Chief Constable in the exercise of his duty.

“Similarly, if the commissioner got in the Chief’s car and drove it away, that wouldn’t trigger the two-year sentence rule either.”

Other crimes which carry a sentence no longer than two years include racially or religiously aggravated common assault, exposure, throwing missiles at a football match, and being drunk and disorderly in a public place.

Mr Sampson’s comments were seized upon by Labour, who opposed the introduction of PCCs but intend to field candidates in the elections next year.

Shadow Policing Minister David Hanson said: “Labour attempted to get the Tory-led Government to impose stricter thresholds than a two-year sentence, but they wouldn’t listen. This is a Government that is cutting 16,000 officers, removing powers to use DNA evidence, CCTV and ASBOs, and hitting police morale.

“They only have a policy for cutting police officers and have no strategy to cut crime.”

The election of PCCs is a key plank of the coalition Government’s policing changes.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The power to suspend an elected Police and Crime Commissioner before they have been found guilty by a court must be proportionate to the alleged offence. The threshold of a two-year prison sentence has been set after extensive debate.”