Following the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick after London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, lost confidence in her leadership, many questioned what role the police commissioner plays. A highly political position, yet – at least in London – an unlected position, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is the most important police officer in the United Kingdom, but they are far from the only police commissioner throughout the country.
Most positions for police and crime commissioners were introduced, during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s administration, in 2012, replacing the regional Policing Authorities. In Scotland and Northern Ireland an equivalent role is performed by the Scottish Police Authority and the Northern Ireland Policing Board, respectively. However, the role has existed for far longer in London, with the first Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Rowan, taking office in 1829.
The intention behind the role’s introduction throughout England was to replace regional police authorities with directly elected officials to make police forces across the country more accountable to the electorate. The new commissioners also took over much of the day-to-day policing matters formerly managed by the Home Office.
The duty of a police commissioner is to ensure that police forces within their jurisdiction are efficient and effective and to hold the chief constable of their police force to account. They also hold the funds for police in their jurisdiction. Police commissioners cannot be directly or indirectly employed by the police when they run for or hold the office. An exception to this is the Metropolitan Police commissioner and the City of London Police commissioner, which are themselves positions within the police force. In fact, the Met Police commissioner must be, or have been, a chief constable in a UK police force.
In some regions, the police and crime commissioner is also the commissioner for the fire service, and in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and London the functions usually designated to a police commissioner are instead performed by the mayor.
When a police commissioner is elected, they must produce a “police and crime plan” to lay out their policing objectives for their time in office. The commissioner must annually publish a document reporting on the progress made with their plan’s objectives.
The most famous police commissioner is that of the Metropolitan Police, or, to give them their full title, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The position went through various changes and mergers before taking on its current form in 1973. Along with the City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police’s commissioner is also its chief police officer, whereas for every other police force this role is carried out by a chief constable.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner is also responsible for leading counter-terrorism nationwide, as well as protecting the royal family and high-ranking government officials.
Most chief police officers are accountable to their region’s local residents, police and crime commissioner, mayor, or, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, police authority. Due to their duties spanning the entire nation, the Met police commissioner is accountable to a larger number of people and officials, most importantly the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London.
New police commissioners are appointed, as a formality, by the Queen on the advice of the Home Secretary. However, it is generally understood that the functions of the Met commissioner are essentially impossible without the support of the Mayor of London. Therefore both the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London confer on the decision of who to appoint as Met Police commissioner, and losing the support of either one of them effectively forces the commissioner to resign.
Cressida Dick leaves her post over the weekend, but her replacement has yet to be selected. Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House will replace her on an interim basis until the new commissioner is selected. House is expected to be one of the potential replacements under consideration.