New deputy police commissioner has 'no unfair advantage' in election to replace his boss

May 22 2020
New deputy police commissioner has 'no unfair advantage' in election to replace his boss

THE police commissioner’s second-in-command insists his new role will not give him an unfair advantage in next year’s race to replace her.

After eight years without a deputy, Avon and Somerset’s Sue Mountstevens drafted in John Smith, her office’s former chief executive, to help her cope with the expanded workload created by the lockdown.

She was due to stand down this month and he hoped to replace her but the coronavirus crisis forced them both to put their plans on hold until next May.

I’m still planning to stand as police and crime commissioner,” Mr Smith told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. “I’m not really thinking about that at the moment.

There’s a lot to do. The focus for the calendar year is on this job. In the new year I will announce my plans.

I don’t think this role gives me an edge. About half the PCCs across the country have deputies.

Quite a few have tried to become PCC – some have been successful and others haven’t.

There’s no guarantee or advantage.”

Mr Smith has been in the £39,000-a-year part-time role for the last month. This week Ms Mountstevens has been taking a break so he has filled in on the criminal justice board to discuss restarting crown court trials, and spoke to chief constable Andy Marsh on the force’s regular Facebook Live videos.

He has also spoken to council leaders. Whereas the PCC would normally contact them quarterly, those meetings are now happening every week.

One of the key concerns recently has been the influx of visitors to Weston-super-Mare.

There are real concerns from people living at beauty spots that there are too many people coming,” said Mr Smith.

Everyone is going to want to go outside this weekend. People need to think about where they are going. It’s likely to be very busy.

I wouldn’t want to take my family somewhere I’d struggle to follow the social distancing guidelines.

The enforcement rules have changed. Police are now focused on who people are out with, whereas before it was why they were out. The focus is on trying to stop the virus spreading between households.

We’re trying to emphasise the message of taking responsibility.”

Speaking during the Facebook Live video on May 21, Mr Marsh said: “Some people are desperate to go out. Some are very concerned and frightened.

We need to take a line that brings them together.

People are allowed to go out. They are encouraged to respect the two-metre social distance.

They aren’t allowed to gather three or more from different households.

If people are out and social distancing, that’s good.”

Mr Smith added: “Sue and the chief want to come out of this crisis with an even stronger relationship with the public. There’s a lot of community support. It would be great if we could build on that.”

One of his key aims in his new role is in reducing reoffending.

Fifty per cent of people in Bristol Prison don’t have anywhere to live – that’s not good enough,” said Mr Smith. “The chances of them coming back into prison are very high.

Accommodation isn’t enough in itself. Training and employment are significant, as are mental health and drug and alcohol support.

Providing that support is the best way to reduce reoffending.”

Mr Smith also wants to see the backlog of cases in the criminal justice system reduced.

The courts have been extremely badly affected by the lockdown,” he said. “We’ve had the first crown court trial in Bristol this week.

There would normally be 12 courtrooms open in Bristol but now there are two across the whole region.

They need the technology and the capacity to work differently.”

Speaking during the Facebook Live, Mr Marsh said he did not think there were adequate plans in place to deal with the backlog.

Mr Smith said he is happy to meet any groups to discuss their concerns. Anyone interested should get in contact through the PCC website.

By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service