Calls from Norfolk councillors to axe police commissioner role

Controversial plans to introduce US-style police commissioners are to be investigated by officers at Norfolk County Council, so councillors can decide whether or not they want to oppose the proposals.

Ministers are planning to replace the existing police authorities, made up of elected county councillors and independent members from the community, with the commissioners by May 2012.

Such a move would see the public directly elect a police commissioner, bringing to an end the current Norfolk Police Authority, which is made up of councillors and independent members of the community.

The proposal has caused controversy, with opponents arguing that it will politicise the police force, put too much power in the hands of one person and the checks and balances currently provided by the police authority will be eroded.

Green county councillors put forward a motion at a meeting of Norfolk County Council yesterday calling for County Hall to write to the government and MPs and request that the police commissioner proposal is abandoned.

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Richard Bearman, Green councillor for Mancroft in Norwich, said: 'It's vital that the police retain their political independence. That's what allows individuals to feel protected, regardless of their race, religion or political views.

'Maintaining that independence between police and politics will become increasingly difficult.'

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He said the the police commissioner might not have a strong mandate if turnout in the election to pick them was low and added that it was difficult for one person to represent such as diverse range of people.

But Roger Smith, Conservative councillor for Henstead, tabled an amendment to the motion, suggesting that, while many councillors might share the sentiment of the Green's motion, it was premature to write to the government and MPs.

He suggested that officers should draw up a report to go to the council's overview and scrutiny panel before members took a view, a motion which was carried.

Last month, Norwich City Council agreed to write to home secretary Theresa May and to Norwich MPs Simon Wright and Chloe Smith urging them to axe the proposal.

A motion put forward by Green city councillors at City Hall, calling for the council to make clear its objection to the idea, was agreed by the full council.

The former leaders of Norwich City Council and Broadland District Council, Steve Morphew and Simon Woodbridge, have expressed an interest in becoming the new police commissioner, as has Stephen Bett, the current chairman of Norfolk Police Authority.

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