RON BALL, who is Warwickshire’s first directly elected police and crime commissioner, has every intention of maintaining the same independence in the job as he did as the candidate for the post.
He has even chosen to set up his office well away from any kind of police building—for the time being in a county-council-owned property in Northgate Street, Warwick. “I want to establish the fact that I’m not part of the police,” he told me this week.
“If people want to come and make a complaint against the police, it’s a bit intimidating in a police station. It will be my job to monitor all aspects of the performance of the police—and that includes being independent when it comes to dealing with people who have complaints against the police.”
It could be argued that Mr Ball is the most independent of all 12 Independent candidates who became police and crime commissioners following elections in England and Wales. He is a former British Airways jumbo jet pilot—the other 11 are either former police officers or ex-members of the police authorities they have now replaced.
In fact, during the election campaign Mr Ball argued that “police experience” would be an obstacle. “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that I am coming to this role with a completely independent outlook,” he said.
And he added: “I establ;ish good working relationships with people, but that doesn’t mean in any sense that I’m a pushover. If you talk to people I’ve dealt with in my union capacity [he was an official of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, BALPA] none of them will say I am soft.
“I can work with people to get my point across. I am assertive, but not aggressive. If I have the bone between my teeth I don’t let it go. I don’t as a matter of course growl—though I can growl! I work on the basis of respect. I focus on the problem. I’m not there to do people down or score points.”
Mr Ball has already hit the ground running. One of his meetings this week was with Andy Parker, the chief constable. “I’ve asked him to cut the bureaucracy so far as the police are concerned—with a three-month timescale,” he said. “I want a real focus on freeing up time for officers which is wasted.”
The new commissioner—in line with his election manifesto—also wants to focus on the “Safer Neighbourhood” teams. “I’m prepared to spend some money to try to make sure they work as well as possible,” he said. “I also want to recruit some additional special constables, particularly from the ethnic minorities. This will, I believe, get under way very quickly.”
“Safer Neighbourhood” teams are, without doubt, right at the top of Mr Ball’s agenda. He said: “One of the things I really dislike is anti-social behaviour. It’s that local level policing that I think will be the key to weeding that out. It’s got to be done at the local level.”
There is also the question of the strategic alliance between Warwickshire and West Mercia police forces. This is clearly high on the agenda for Mr Parker.
When I asked him last Friday what his priorities were, the chief constable said: “The continuation of the strategic alliance with West Mercia and making savings.
“We need to offer the best possible service with the resources we have available—which means catching more criminals and reducing crime. We need to make sure we are affordable and sustainable as we go forward.”
The low turnout for the police commissioner elections—in Warwickshire’s case 15.65 per cent—is obviously disappointing to Mr Ball. During the election campaign he and the other two candidates—Conservative Fraser Pithie and Labour’s James Plaskitt—blamed the government for the public’s apathy because it failed to promote the poll sufficiently. After the election result Mr Pithie—who came third—even attracted coverage in the national press for blaming David Cameron and the Conservative Party for not raising the profile of the vote.
The result after the first round—using the Supplementary Vote (SV) system—was extremely close. No candidate got the 50 per cent plus one vote majority to win outright. Mr Plaskitt came first with 22,308, Mr Ball second with 21,410 and Mr Pithie bottom with 20,571.
After Mr Pithie was eliminated there was a second count in which the second preference votes of those who had supported Mr Pithie were added to the existing votes for Mr Plaskitt and Mr Ball. The result then was Ball 33,231 and Plaskitt 25,200, making Mr Ball the clear winner.
Immediately after his victory Mr Ball stressed the importance of his independent stance and what he perceived to be the voters’ reluctance to back candidates wearing party labels. “I think I tapped in to the feeling that this was bringing party politics too close to policing—and I don’t think the other candidates recognised that,” he told me.
Mr Ball has some challenges ahead. He’s already committed to freezing the police element of the council tax in 2013-14 and he’ll be conducting a review of properties owned by the police to see if the tight budget can be boosted by selling some of them off.
And despite his keenness to be his own man, he’s not above asking certain former members of the now defunct Warwickshire Police Authority to provide advice during his first year of office. “I have already had acceptances,” he said.
The importance of him remaining independent, though, is at the forefront of his thinking. “I want to get the best out of people, but that doesn’t mean I have to cosy up to everyone,” he said.
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