BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Adam Simmonds, the “George Washington” of police commissioners?

Police Commissioner Adam Simmonds
Police Commissioner Adam Simmonds

Six months have passed since Adam Simmonds was appointed as the (whisper it) Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner and he has scarcely been out of the news since - barring a short holiday.

During that time, the PCC has engaged publicly with everyone at Northamptonshire Police, not least its 1,200 officers, and has already created a profile that almost cries out: “You don’t have to like me, but you can’t ignore me”

When the PCC debate has come up for discussion, Mr Simmonds seems to have become a “go-to” person for media.

He has had a spot on the Today programme to rebut allegations of “cronyism” and a profile in the (left-leaning) Guardian outlining some of the ambitions of “a young man in a hurry” to cut violent crime by 40 per cent or eradicate drugs.

Last night, on BBC Radio 4’s documentary strand, The Report, listeners were provided with perhaps the clearest assessment yet of how Northamptonshire’s police chief is faring and comparing him - very favourably it has to be said - with some of his opposite numbers elsewhere in the country.

Setting out their stall, the programme recounted headlines from around the 41 forces involving PCCs accused of cronyism, appointing friends or work colleagues to top, highly paid assistant commissioner jobs, extravagant expenses claims, £75k PR jobs, “sham offices” and even allegations that some of them are doing very little at all.

It begins in the “faded grandeur” of Wootton Hall, or at least the “West Wing” thereof, where Mr Simmonds’s former press agent, Peter Heaton, now a £65k-a-year assistant commissioner himself, reminds us that it may be the West Wing but any resemblance to the eponymous US political drama are “very, very remote indeed”.

John Collins, of the independent think tank The Police Foundation, describes Mr Simmonds as the “archetypal trailblazer” someone who is “keen to get on, keen to get things done and prepared to stick his head above the parapet and make real changes”. Praise indeed.

Immediately, however, the PCC is quizzed about those cronyism allegations, specifically involving Mr Heaton and also Mr Simmonds’ election agent, Kathryn Buckle, being appointed to posts without, the BBC pointedly stated, the jobs being advertised.

His answer: “Do I not appoint people because I know them or because there is bit of an outcry or do I want the best people? And I went for the latter. If these people were no good they would not have got the job.”

And what of his radical policies? Well, we were reminded that a 200-strong reservist force had been quietly parked because it conflicted with the role of specials, but what of the reason for the 40 per cent target fall over five years in violent crime?

His answer makes good sense when you hear where the seeds were set: Because his “predecessor”, Northamptonshire Police Authority, had watched that stat rise by 5.5 per cent a year and their outgoing target was to reduce that by 3.5 per cent.

“How unambitious was that?” he asks, justifiably.

If he succeeds that will be 4,000 fewer victims of crime a year in the county. If he hits 25 per cent, he admits he “would not consider that a failure”.

One thing you can’t deny PCC Simmonds is he does make good interview fodder, partly because his passion for American politics has a habit of seeping into every conversation.

Here’s a sample, this time referencing JFK: “He said: ‘We are going to the moon and they went to the moon.’ The job of a leader, and a new leader, is to set an ambitious agenda, excite people about it because who wouldn’t want to reduce violent crime by 40 per cent? So why not say it?.”

Another independent voice, Peter Neyroud, former head of the National Policing Improvement Agency and former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, sounds caution at this point warning such plans can backfire.

He warned it raises public expectations, while for the force it can become an unreal target, even an “unfortunate hostage to fortune”.

On his office for drugs eradication, Mr Simmonds concedes his use of the word eradication is “deliberately provocative” and his solution “controversial”.

“It’s not, oh he wants to un-invent heroin, it’s about eradicating the problem, so the focus is on stopping us having a drug culture. Some of that is about enforcement but it is also about educating our kids about proper drug use.

“We could give out leaflets until we are blue in the face so we have got to teach kids who want to use drugs, to use them responsibly. If you are going to have a society which cannot un-invent heroin you have to get to a place when our kids understand the effects of these drugs.”

In the closing section on Mr Simmonds, “The George Washington of Commissioners”, he once again can’t resist a name check to JFK, urged on by his interviewer, Simon Cox: “I wouldn’t begin to compare myself to JFK but I think in terms of a generational shift {“after Eisenhower”} there are very few 36 year olds in this particular role.”

“I guess I see myself as bringing some energy to bear on this and being ambitious enough to say: ‘Why don’t we do that, why don’t we go there, why don’t change the world? I am the energy, decision-maker, pursuer of policy. I don’t have a council, a cabinet, I’m it.”

The remainder of the 30-minute documentary is devoted to the West Midlands PCC, Labour’s Bob Jones and his battles (not least with his own crime panel and a deputy commissioner who also happens to be a Labour councillor with a total remuneration of £95,000) and those of Alan Hardwick, the independent in Lincolnshire who sacked his chief constable and then had to re-appoint him.

Peter Neyroud’s expert assessment of Northamptonshire’s crime plan is it has been “very, very strong” on primary prevention, good on public consultation, with clear divisions of labour between the PCC and the chief constable while the crime plan itself is both clearly articulated and innovative”.

Interestingly, the Home Office refused to contribute to the programme (and therefore comment on a flagship Tory policy), beyond a short statement, while the final word was left to the Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz - not a fan of PCCs - who told listeners: “There needs to be some scrutiny, I’m not sure there’s any going on at the moment.

“There seems to be a free-for-all there’s no proper regulation...These are people who have enormous power.”

Like or loathe the idea of PCCs, they are here to stay. For now.

You can listen to The Report here.