Row over policing 'basics' in wake of inspection report

Mark Burns-Williamson
Mark Burns-Williamson

WEST YORKSHIRE’S police commissioner has failed to recognise the importance of training officers in “basic investigation skills” amid low crime-solving figures, local Liberal Democrats have claimed.

But the comments have sparked a political row, with commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson staunchly defending his record and accusing the party of scaremongering.

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, who leads the Liberal Democrat group on Bradford Council, said in east Bradford, three-quarters of crimes were resulting in no further action.

She said the responsibility for this lay with the Labour commissioner, adding: “To us he seems to fail to recognise what we are sure is a public priority - the importance of training police officers in basic investigation skills.”

Her comments came a month after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary gave the force an overall rating of ‘good’ but said its investigation of crime required improvement.

Cllr Sunderland also criticised the work of the local Police and Crime Panel, set up to scrutinise Mr Burns-Williamson’s work.

She questioned how effective this could be given that it was made up of a majority of fellow Labour members and had a Labour chairwoman.

Mr Burns-Williamson said the independent inspectors had rated the force as good for the past three years and had also recognised “the strategic leadership of myself and the Chief Constable “.

He said: “No concerns about the work of me or my office have been raised directly by Cllr Sunderland over this time. But let’s see this for what it is, criticisms levied at democratically elected Labour politicians in West Yorkshire by the leader of the Lib Dems in Bradford, three days before an election - blatant electioneering and scaremongering.”

Councillor Alison Lowe, the Labour chairwoman of the Police and Crime Panel, also gave a strong rebuttal to the claim that she and her team were failing to properly scrutinise Mr Burns-Williamson. She accused the Liberal Democrats of hypocrisy, saying it was they, as part of the coalition Government, who had set up the system across England and Wales in 2012, as a replacement for police authorities.

She said: “Without them getting into bed with the Tory Government, there would not be a police and crime commissioner and there would not be a police and crime panel.

“So suck it up, you did it to yourselves. Don’t then go and turn the tables and blame the 14 of us working really, really hard ever since day one to hold Mark and his activity to account.

“We are working really, really hard and I think we are being effective.”

Police and crime panels are required to reflect the political balance in their areas.

In 2014, the Home Affairs select committee noted that this “inevitably” means a majority of panel members are from the same party as the commissioner they scrutinise.

The committee also noted that in 26 areas, panels were chaired by someone of the same political affiliation as their commissioner, which could result in “less challenging scrutiny”.

West Yorkshire Police has begun a force-wide investigative training programme for officers and staff in the wake of its latest inspection report.

Deputy Chief Constable John Robins said the force was proud of its ‘good’ rating but recognised it still had “work to do to improve our response and investigation” to so-called ‘volume crimes’ like theft and criminal damage.

He said: “Part of the problem has been that call for service and demands on our resources have continued to increase, whilst the complexity and scale of investigations has grown and all at the same time that we have less resources now available to us.”