The pitfalls of open access TV filming is that confidential matters aside, the viewer sees the blemishes as well as the strengths of the subject. Last nights CH4 Meet the Commissioner certainly revealed the blemishes of Ann Barnes and her approach to the role of Police Commissioner, but also the extent to which the role of Police Commissioner, just like that of Local Government itself often falls a long way short of our expectations, constrained between our desires and top down diktats from Central Government. No one who has experience of local government would have found the conflict between Government Departments surprising and many on twitter questioned why Ann Barnes seemed surprised by this. However perhaps Ann was more concerned for that chaotic truth to be revealed to the tax payers who watched her programme. The blemishes that emerged last night were not all on the face of Mrs Barnes.
Most Politicians arrive in senior posts having been shaped over many years by the Political Party that provides them with a platform. They have already learnt to ensure that their public persona is as free of blemishes as possible. They have had the experience of being taken to task for any other approach by their colleagues and opponents and in many cases the press. They would not have allowed such a programme to be made about their working day. That is why the UKIP Councillors and MEPs are such a surprise. Their views may be distasteful to us, but in most cases they have not yet learned to keep their personal views to themselves. Arguably one of the reasons why people have supported UKIP and in 2012 chose in 1 case out of 3 to elect an Indpendent Police and Crime Commissioner, rather than a Labour or Conservative candidate is that they were looking for a more open model of representation. They don’t want a factory clone perfectly dressed in the colours of red, blue or yellow.
On last nights programme we saw a constant focus on Mrs Barnes listening to people in the parts of Kent that ‘Ann Force One’ visited. What she failed to show was any sense of helping people to understand the implication of their desires. The irony of her discomfort that the mobile police station had not been visited in its hour in the village visited, missed the point that few of us do visit police stations unless we have to, and when some of us call for visible policing, it is primarily to reassure us that they are in our area. The mantra of visible policing pays no attention to the inefficiency inherent in that model of service delivery. In health care or education we don’t expect to see GPs, Dentists or School Teachers walking on the Streets of our neighbourhood looking for people to treat or to teach, we assume they are already busy, teaching or examining patients. When people ask for visible policing it is vital that Police Commissioners get to the reasons behind that request and take the time to explain that policing methods may make hidden policing much more valuable in the context of the couple who had been burgled. They did not find a planned visit of a mobile police station to their street reassuring, perhaps they would have been more comforted by hearing what steps the operational police enquiries had taken to track down the criminal who visited their home. For that conversation they would need to speak to a Police Officer, not Ann Barnes. However the Parish Councillors of Minster perhaps did need a visit from Mrs Barnes and her refusal to grant them a meeting was disappointing, not so they could discuss operational policing, but to discuss ways in which the Parish Council could work with the Police and other agencies to achieve the same outcome in their village that historically a full time Police Officer has provided.