Crime commissioner under fire for political campaigning

The crime commissioner for Essex has come under fire for political campaigning in Southend, despite his insistence that it is permitted in his role.

In a series of posts on social media the Southend Conservatives promoted that the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, spent Saturday “supporting” Tory councillor Helen Boyd as she canvassed in Blenheim ward.

The posts claim Mr Hirst was “telling residents of work that he and the Conservatives are doing to make Essex Police the biggest and strongest it’s ever been” and in pictures he can be seen holding Conservative election material.

It has sparked accusations that the commissioner is acting politically, in violation of an oath he swore after being elected which states he would serve impartially, “without fear or favour” – similar to an oath sworn by police officers.

Southend’s representative for the Essex Police and Crime Panel, Councillor Ian Shead (Ind), said the commissioner had made a “big mistake” and he has written to the chair of the panel.

The councillor – who also served in the police for 35 years – said: “The police need to be politically impartial and although the commissioner gets elected on a political ticket, I believe what he’s done is likely to cause concern for the police and the policing arena.”

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who oversees public safety, said: “This is an elected role, but once elected you swear a pledge of impartiality, the same as police officers.

“He is breaking that pledge and maybe he should consider resigning if the political party is considered more important that the people of Essex and policing – it is an utter disgrace.”

Mr Hirst said there is an “important distinction” between the political area and the policy area.

“The chief constable has complete operational control of Essex Police, I don’t. I have control of policy and funding. I am not involved in operations,” he said.

“I absolutely swear an oath to act without fear or favour for Southend and I do, there is no question that I absolutely do. I am there for the entire population, just as when the Prime Minister makes a policy for 20,000 new officers, it is not just a Conservative policy, but it is for the whole country.”

Pippa Brent-Isherwood, chief executive and monitoring officer for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Under the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, commissioners are not permitted to use the resources of the Commissioner’s office – i.e. its staff and equipment – for political purposes.

“However incumbent commissioners can act in a personal capacity, as a private individual, for political purposes.

“In this instance, we can confirm that the visit to Southend at the weekend was undertaken in the commissioner’s own time, at his own expense, and made no use of the resources at his disposal in his capacity as the PFCC.

“Incumbent commissioners are free to campaign on behalf of the party they represent, and to refer to the fact that they are the incumbent commissioner when doing so, as this is a point of fact and a matter of public record.”
Cllr Boyd said: “I think Mr Hirst knows what he is doing, he has campaigned before and he will be up for election himself this year. He has always made it clear he is a Conservative. I don’t think there is an issue.

Councillor Matt Dent (Lab) added: “We shouldn’t really be surprised the Conservative-elected commissioner is out campaigning for the Conservative party in Essex.

“I am of the opinion we should not have an elected police and crime commissioner.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter