They arrived in a wave of apathy and have been heavily criticised since - But after what he admits have been ten tough weeks in office, Derbyshire’s Police Crime Commissioner says he is now making strides towards delivering his pre-election promises.
Alan Charles was elected as the county’s first Police Crime Comissioner in November with over 60 per cent of the vote - although, amid confusion about what the role meant and what each candidate represented, Derbyshire residents followed the national trend with fewer than one in five turning out to vote.
Also a Labour county councillor in his home ward of Killamarsh, Mr Charles’ decisions during his short tenure as Commissioner have already provoked a heated response from residents, including his decision to appoint a deputy commissioner on £56,000 a year, and increase council tax to cover funding cuts from central government.
“It’s probably a tougher situation that I anticipated,” said Mr Charles, 63.
“I was a member of the police authority for three years as Vice Chair but I wasn’t here everyday of the week, being the front of the organisation and making the decisions. Once or twice I have been sat around the table thinking, ‘Where is my support here?’ You need that, but you haven’t got it. Time wise I’m working until 11pm every night. That’s the bit that the public don’t see but that’s the job. It’s an all consuming job and I’m total submerged in it.”
His first two jobs as commissioner have been to set the budget for Derbyshire Police for the next four years, as well as create a Police and Crime Plan to outline his “vision for local policing up to 2017.”
“They are two massive pieces of work from day one,” he said.
“Plus there are all the briefings and the people to meet. That’s happening alongside two pieces of work which are critical to your tenure in the office. The difference between this position to taking over the leadership of a large council department is that you’ve got six months to plan your budget. With this, from day one, there was massive pressure to get the Police and Crime Plan and budget drafted. It’s a very pressured situation for the first ten weeks.”
In those weeks, Mr Charles, who earns £75,000 a year, appointed fellow Labour councillor Hardyal Dhindsa (Normanton) as his £56,000 a year deputy - a decision which prompted some to question whether a deputy was a necessity at a time of threats to front line services.
“I understand why people are asking that and I expect them to do that,” said Mr Charles.
“One of the things I have done is write to every leader in Derbyshire to to say that if they want me and Hardyal to come along, walk around their patch and talk to your residents about what your issues are with policing, with crime and anti social behaviour, that’s what we want to be doing.
“There are one million people in this county and one person alone can’t possibly do that. It’s an impossible job. There we 17 members doing that kind of work under the Police Authority. One person can’t replicate that.
“Some people say I have just employed a Labour party member, but if you look at Hardyal’s 30-year background in the criminal justice system, his probation work and his very strong community links with the migrant populations and ethnic populations in Derby city, I think you can see it’s not the case. It was a genuine open recruitment process.”
The rise 1.96 per cent in council tax announced by Mr Charles’ office last week is something he “sincerely regrets”, but says doing so will create a sustainable way of funding policing, unlike the offer from central government of a freeze on council tax rises.
“The council tax freeze grant sounds good, and people might ask why we are not taking it. The problem is that it is time limited.
“Last year they gave a 2.5 per cent freeze for one year only. If I want to keep the money in the budget for this year, I have to replace it.
“It’s very much like a payday loan - if we take the grant now then by 2016 we’re going to have to find £3 pounds to put back into the budget just to stand still, and that’s without any other cuts that are coming.
“We can’t just keep going on blindly and crossing our fingers hoping that everything works out. We’ve never done that here at Derbyshire Police.”
Maintaining front police services was one of Mr Charles’ pre-election vows - he has already provided four additional PCSO’s through cost cutting in his own office - although he said that doesn’t necessarily mean a more visible police presence on Derbyshire’s streets.
“Traditional crime like house burglaries and vehicle crime is dropping because there’s nothing in it for those criminals them any more.
“Instead, criminals are sat in front of a computer getting into your credit card. The uniformed policeman in the street is not going to solve that kind of crime, but a computer wizard wearing a t-shirt and jeans investigating those crimes can.
“I think of the guy sat in front of the computer as being frontline, but do the public? I think if you explain to them, yes, but in their mind it’s someone walking down the street.”