I believe that it is a democratic duty to do – previous generations gave their lives to protect this country’s liberty. However I hope it is the last time that I have to vote for a crime tsar in West Yorkshire.
By the time of the next elections in 2020, I hope each of the four commissioners due to be elected today will have taken steps to create a single police force for Yorkshire.
It would certainly help South Yorkshire draw a line under a succession of scandals, most recently the Hillsborough inquest jury’s unlawful killing verdict and growing pressure for a new inquiry into the Orgreave riot during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and which have prompted some calls in Parliament for the embattled force to be abolished.
However it is more profound than than this. It would also enable the South, West and North Yorkshire forces, together with Humberside, to unite under one chain of command with the savings in management costs being invested in additional front line officers.
In fairness, Labour proposed this during the dying days of Tony Blair’s government before surrendering to public and political opinion. By then, policy was being determined by opinion polls.
Times have changed. It is three years since Police Scotland was formed north of the border, a super-force that replaced eight separate constabularies and – significantly – the wholesale duplication of management resources.
Under one chief constable, three deputy chiefs, eight assistants responsible for specific areas and three civilians who carry the title “director”, it believes it is now better equipped to solve and prevent crime. One assistant chief constable even has the specific remit of community policing. Even though 75 per cent of police officers are assigned to a local area, it is now easier to call up back-up staff without the rigmarole of contacting neighbouring forces.
If it is possible to make this happen in Scotland where the police’s jurisdiction covers 28,168 square miles, it should be possible in Yorkshire which is just 6,066 square miles in size.
Not only is the geography, clusters of inner cities surrounded by majestic countryside, very similar, but so too are the populations. Currently 5.29 million live north of the border according to the last Census while this region is home to 5.3 million individuals.
And then there are the tiers of bureaucracy. Take South Yorkshire where David Crompton, the current Chief Constable, is suspended following the Hillsborough inquest.
His “senior command team” consisted of a deputy, three assistant chief constables, a finance director and assistant chief officer responsible for human resources.
In West Yorkshire, Dee Collins – the Temporary Chief Constable – has a seven-strong top team. Justine Curran, head of Humberside Police, has five chief officers under her immediate command while Dave Jones, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, has four other lieutenants in his management structure prior to his secondment on Monday to head up South Yorkshire’s troubled force.
By my calculations, this means that Yorkshire’s four chief constables – and four crime commissioners – are supported by 22 senior officers and civilians. By way of comparison, Scotland’s police chief Philip Gormley has a 14-strong “executive team” under his command.
Talk about too many chiefs and not enough police officers on the front line. Surely Yorkshire’s convoluted management structure is no longer sustainable, or applicable, when criminals take no heed of artificial local authority boundaries?
After all, it can’t be conducive to good policing that, say, Bridlington and Scarborough – two resorts with much in common – come under separate police forces. Or Barnsley and Wakefield, separated by 12 miles. Or Wetherby and Knaresborough, only eight miles apart.
Three other points also need mentioning. First, where would a Yorkshire Police Force be based? Given that people are very territorial, it is helpful that the M62 and A1(M) intersection is in close proximity to the boundary of all four local constabularies.
Second, moves to create a Yorkshire-wide constabulary might actually convince local councillors to do likewise when it comes to regional devolution – a process which now appears stalled because of parochialism.
Third, it is depressing that it took the deaths of 96 innocent individuals at Hillsborough, and a 27-year cover-up that represents Britain’s worst ever miscarriage of justice, for the future of South Yorkshire Police to come to a head.
Now it has, the need to make a clean break from the past is self-evident. As long as local commanders remain in place, there’s nothing to prevent a Yorkshire force being created.
If only I had the chance to challenge the PCC candidates standing in my area to ask if they would be prepared – if elected – to make their post redundant and put policing’s public interest before self interest and the empire-building by stealth that has been taking place in Yorkshire’s cash-strapped constabularies.