I had little enthusiasm for the election of police and crime commissioners when the posts were created 18 months ago.
I agreed that the police need to be more accountable, but I did not see how electing time-expired politicians would do much to change things. The coalition government promised that commissioners would cut crime and hold chief constables to account. Given the long history of local voluntary sector involvement in crime reduction work, there was anxiety that maverick commissioners with big egos and party political backgrounds would ignore existing partnerships.
The public showed little interest and, a year ago, less than 20 per cent of the electorate turned out to elect the commissioners. Cynical attitudes towards elected politicians were reinforced when, in April this year, the Cumbria PCC, Richard Rhodes, was forced to apologise for using a taxpayer-funded chauffeur-driven car and delaying the declaration of his expenses.
But I realised soon after the election that change was indeed taking place. The Kent PCC, Ann Barnes, was one of the first to appoint a youth commissioner to enable the voices of young people to influence policing policy. The impressive young woman who got the job, Paris Brown, was forced to resign a few weeks later when the press uncovered some offensive tweets she had sent as a teenager. It was a bad start, but now many youth commissioners are at work, sensitising the police to young people's needs.
The Avon and Somerset PCC, Sue Mountstevens, set up meetings with young black people to hear about their experiences of local policing. Organised with Voscur, the council for voluntary service in Bristol, Mountstevens has given a higher priority to having a dialogue with black youngsters than the former police authority did.
The Nottinghamshire PCC, Paddy Tipping, took part in Mansfield's Big Snore, sleeping rough to draw attention to the needs of homeless people. "People sleeping rough are some of the most vulnerable in society," said Tipping. "We need to help them regain their footing in society, with a job and a home to call their own." These are not the words we heard from previous police authority chairs.
At September's meeting of the Wiltshire Voluntary Sector Assembly, I shared the platform with the Wiltshire PCC, Angus MacPherson. He has established a £1m Innovation Fund to "break the cycle of crime". Grants to local charities are already flowing, with priority given to encouraging volunteering, supporting victims and rehabilitating women offenders. Most PCCs have set up local grants schemes.
It's clear to me PCCs are bringing fresh approaches to community policing and many of them are engaging with the local voluntary sector in innovative ways. As local councils cut their grants budgets, PCCs are becoming a valuable source of support for community work.
I hope they are here to stay.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser