From now on, you own the Police

This week I will visit a small community near Rotterdam that has pioneered a way to fight crime. Under the “neighbourhood takes charge” project in Bolnes, the police allocate 20 hours of the force’s time each week for local people to “spend” as they see fit.

The scheme has resulted in huge reductions in crime as the community has taken responsibility for its own safety. Instead of senior officers deciding how, or if, they should respond to community concerns, power is transferred to the people. Suddenly a public service is truly owned by the public.

The idea of a “right to policing” is completely in tune with the coalition government’s agenda to open public services, return power to communities and devolve budgetary control. Labour’s solution was to micromanage the police from Whitehall. It set targets, a national policing plan and performance indicators. It even published a pledge telling officers how to answer telephone calls.

The police spent ever more time ticking boxes while the public were forgotten. But you cannot choose your police force. Policing is a monopoly service. The public depend on the police to deal with crime and antisocial behaviour, yet their leverage to demand a better service was nonexistent.

Now, for the first time, the public are being put in the driving seat. The government is promoting the most radical reform of policing since Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan police and declared that “the police are the public and the public are the police”.

We are giving people the information they need to hold the police to account. Not the meaningless public sector ratings that told people nothing (“your force is excellent”) — but detailed crime mapping that reveals every reported incident of crime and antisocial behaviour at street level.

Since its launch a year ago, has been an extraordinary success, receiving more than 450m hits. We have added information allowing comparisons of force performance. This week we will improve the data to start to show incidents in public places such as shopping areas, nightclubs and parks. Later this year we will add justice outcomes revealing whether a crime had a consequence — and what it was.

We’re making it easier for people to contact the police. Visit, type in your postcode and you will be shown your neighbourhood policing team and its direct contact details.

Three-quarters of calls to the police on the 999 number turn out not to be emergencies at all. People want to get hold of the police to report crime and raise concerns, but don’t know how. So this month we launched a national non-emergency number in England and Wales: 101. Dial it and immediately you will be put through to your local force.

Of course, people want to see their police as well. We are hacking away bureaucracy, freeing officers to be crime fighters, not form writers. We have given the public an entitlement to meet officers in regular beat meetings and we will give a trigger to communities to demand action on antisocial behaviour.

For decades, police plans have been set behind closed doors, chief constables have been appointed by invisible authorities and the police precept has been levied on households by bodies that include unelected people.

All this is changing. On November 15 the public will elect police and crime commissioners for the 41 forces outside London in England and Wales. We have already given the mayor of London direct responsibility for the Metropolitan police.

For the first time the public will have a say over policing priorities. Commissioners will set the policing plan and the budget. Chief constables will answer to their commissioners who, in turn, will answer to their electorate.

The operational independence of the police, to make arrests and pursue investigations without political interference, will be protected. But police and crime commissioners will promise to fight crime and they will want to deliver.

Holding a multi-million-pound force to account is a big job for big figures and we want candidates with leadership, experience and calibre to come forward, including independents. But the strength of this reform is that commissioners won’t be appointed by ministers or directed by Whitehall. They will be chosen by the public — and removed from office if they fail to keep people safe.

Together these reforms will drive a renewed fight against crime. Transparency in the criminal justice system will reveal performance and shame failure. The ballot box will give the public a voice. In place of leaden bureaucratic control, people power will energise change. This is nothing less than a fundamental transfer of power from the state to the citizen. And once the people have this power, they will not give it up.

Christopher N Howarth