Norfolk Police Authority fight back after Theresa May comments

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is the overriding view from members of the Norfolk Police Authority as the dust settles on a blistering attack from the home secretary.

Members of the authority paint a rosy picture of the current system in Norfolk where a committee with a variety of backgrounds quietly question, discuss and make decisions about Norfolk policing.

The proof is in the results, they say. Norfolk has some of the lowest crime rates in the country and some of their initiatives have even been imitated elsewhere.

A contrast from Mrs May's negative rhetoric in the wake of the riots.

'In London, the Mayor was on the streets of the city, working with the acting commissioner and representing Londoners to central government,' she said.

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'The contrast with unaccountable, unelected and invisible police authority chairmen in other parts of the country could not have been clearer.'

In fact, of the 17 members of the Norfolk Police Authority, nine are elected county councillors. While they have not been elected specifically to that post, the public would be able to boot them out at the ballot box if they were minded.

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The other eight are willing volunteers with a strong sense of public duty who have responded to an advert and gone through a 'rigorous' selection process and meet a strict criteria.

There is also an effort to get a balance of different experiences from the applicants.

Many have valuable working experience from a business, NHS, criminal justice system, civil engineering and there is even a former police officer.

Amjad Malhis is one of the unelected independent members of the authority. He is a trained civil engineer, but has been a magistrate and sat on a probation board.

'I have not allegiance and no political party. My first and foremost concern is to ensure the safety and security of the people of Norfolk. I haven't got a party plan to follow or to be the mouthpiece of,' he said.

He said they were accountable through the website, e-mail, council meetings and safer neighbourhood meetings and they were contactable and contacted.

In fact, he said, he was disappointed with the lack of public engagement and small numbers who turn up to these meetings.

'It's a two way thing. But they will only engage if they have an issue', he said.

Liz Ollier, another independent member of the board is also full of praise for the current system.

A former NHS chief executive, she is another unelected member of the board. Rather than a weakness she sees that as a strength and that her selection had been rigorous and transparent and that applicants must strongly demonstrate that they are embedded in Norfolk.

'People may have politics but it is not party political in any way and that is one if its strengths.

'It is not politicised and the big strength in Norfolk is that you have a range of experience and competencies and we can all contribute.'

Under the new plans the commissioner would be solely responsible for the police budget, plan and would have the power to hire and fire the police constable.

But Mrs Ollier said one of the authority's strengths is in its numbers.

'However good they are they will not be able to interface with as many people as a police authority', she said

'One commissioner cannot possibly have the combined network of a police authority.'

And as for visibility there is an overriding feeling that it is not the authority's job.

'It is not to do with how much you see us in the front line. It is about the impact you are making. It is about having good people and effective systems and procedures.

'Judge us on our impact and not our visibility,' she said.

Ken Turner, joined the authority when he retired from a multinational business. He had a background in human resources.

'Quite frankly this notion that she is making about someone like Boris being out with the riots - I would like to know how many officers had to keep him safe?'

'We have always taken the view that our visibility is the police visibility.'

Vice chairman of the authority Robin Chapman, another independent and former magistrate, said: 'I would have thought that people wanted to see police rather than chairmen or politicians.

'We are not front line people. That is what the police do. In Norfolk I firmly believe that the so-called invisible police authority have done a good job.'

David Reeve is a former police officer and has seen it from both sides.

He said that the police authority was seen as a 'critical friend' that asked questions when they needed asking. 'It doesn't offend me when people do not know I'm on the police authority. When you ask some people who the home secretary is they don't know. What would worry me is if they didn't feel they had an effective police service.'

He said strongly that operation decisions were up to the police.

He also points out that Mrs May's selling point to hire and fire the chief constable is a power already held by the police authority and extends to deputies and assistants.

Theresa May's plans are clearly not popular with the Norfolk Police Authority who feel it is a waste of money and could politicise an authority which they say has managed to remain neutral.

While they have voiced their reservations, some members of the authority are keen to point out that if the system does go ahead it is up to them to work within it.

Mr Malhis even goes as far as to say the plans are dangerous.

'We scrutinise the constabulary to the nth degree. We do go out and look at things in depth', he said.

He said that by implementing a commissioner they are putting power into the hands of an individual.

'Now we are 17 people equally divided between independent and members with political allegiances.

'We are all accountable whether we are elected or not,' he said.

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