Ann Barnes as "the voice of the community"
PUBLISHED: 09:51 03 January 2013
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Kent's police and crime commissioner spoke with the Reporter about her goals.
Since being elected as Kent’s police and crime commissioner on November 16, Ann Barnes has been contacted by more than 1,200 people wanting her help to address their crime problems.
It is an indicator, she feels, of her success so far in engaging communities on how they are policed – but also, arguably, of the challenges she is facing.
Mrs Barnes, who chaired the county’s police authority before its abolition, says her role is to be “the voice of the community in policing matters”.
She believes the main difference between this and her previous job is visibility and accountability – policing now has a single face, rather than the 17-strong authority.
Although her role is not a frontline one, Mrs Barnes stresses her proactive intentions, stating: “I’m not going to be a bureaucrat sat behind a desk, I will be out and about in the community.”
Her campaign bus, dubbed Ann Force One, will, she says, play a pivotal role in engaging with the electorate at the grassroots level.
“People can come in and just have a chat – it’s a really effective and non-intimidating way for people to talk to me,” she says.
As a means of making herself more formally accountable to those she represents, Mrs Barnes plans to hold Question Time-style public debates.
Voting turnout was especially low in Gravesham (13.9 per cent) and Dartford (14.3 per cent), compared with the national average of 16.3 per cent.
She blames the poor participation rate on the government providing insufficient information about the candidates.
In total, she polled 95,901 first-preference votes, slightly short of the 104,392 needed to win outright. Second-preference votes were then used to elect the winner.
Mrs Barnes has declined to appoint a deputy, opting instead to pay the salary of a youth commissioner, as promised in her manifesto.
Her own salary is set externally at £85,000, and will come out of the force budget that she now sets.
In her manifesto, she promised to fight further cuts to police funding. She says she is still committed to this.
Youth representation and engagement will formulate part of her strategy for combating one of north Kent’s biggest crime problems – antisocial behaviour.
Former teacher Mrs Barnes said: “There is a growing disconnect between young people and what they call the establishment. We alienate and sideline them at our peril, because they are the electorate of tomorrow.”
She will adopt a multi-agency approach to tackling antisocial behaviour, adding: “The key is partnership working, because it isn’t just a police issue.”
As well as prioritising the reduction of crime, she says she also plans to improve victim support.
She will meet weekly with the chief constable, whose public accountability now falls under Mrs Barnes’ remit too.
“I’m a very open and transparent person and that is how I plan to do this job,” she concluded.