Ann Barnes, Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, on her first year in the hotseat
PUBLISHED: 10:01 05 December 2013 | UPDATED: 13:14 05 December 2013
Ann Barnes has come through her first year as Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) with flying colours – although controversy has never been far away.
A nationwide policing review by former Scotland Yard chief Lord Stevens, published within days of the first anniversary last week of her taking up the post, argued that PCCs should be scrapped by 2016, because the system has “fatal systematic flaws”. But Mrs Barnes dismisses the report as lacking evidence.
The commissioner had already hit the headlines in April when her then 17-year-old youth PCC, Paris Brown, resigned over messages she had posted on Twitter which were investigated by police for being anti-gay and racist.
No action was taken against Miss Brown, who had been selected by Mrs Barnes.
Today, Mrs Barnes points to the teething problems that can arise after any shake-up of a system.
The 41 PCCs in England were first appointed in November 2012, with a remit to ensure that police forces meet the needs of their communities.
They are a point of contact for the public to raise concerns over how their area is policed, the law enforcement budget and the information people get about what the force is doing.
Speaking to The Reporter, she said: “Lord Stevens’ report was a lot of sweeping statements. There was not a lot of evidence.
“This job of PCC has no job description. We have to do it as we go along. We have only been going for a year.
“If you’re to change the model of governance, you have to give it time to bed in.
“I just hope there is no knee-jerking [regarding the Stevens report]. People should take note of all the good police work that is going on around the country.”
Mrs Barnes has won praise for pioneering the idea of mobile police stations – police vans which serve as contact points – which can move into local trouble spots quickly and liaise with the community.
It all seems to chime with the Stevens report’s vision of “visible community policing” and more bobbies on the beat.
An important part of her own seven-point manifesto was the appointment of a youth commissioner.
A new youth PCC will be announced in the new year.
“Paris has gone – we’re moving on from Paris,” said Mrs Barnes in a determined voice. ‘You never met Paris. She was an old head on young shoulders.”
She interviewed 46 applicants, aged 18 to 22, for the £15,000-a-year position.
All the candidates were thoroughly vetted, according to Mrs Barnes, including stringent social media checks.
The interview process has clearly been tightened up.
“We have changed our policies in this office,” she added. “No police force had a policy to do social media checks before Paris.”
Mrs Barnes has said previously that she wants her new youth PCC to be “street savvy”.
She explained: “It is a harsh old world out there for young people. It’s very different from when I grew up.
“There is youth unemployment and there are difficulties around social media and cyberbullying.
“I want the new youth commissioner to know what it’s like to be a young person today in this society.”
Mrs Barnes is paying a third of the new youth PCC’s salary herself – a sign of her personal commitment to another “old head on young shoulders” in her team.