The political chief of a scandal-hit and failing police force has announced he has changed his mind and will not stand for re-election next year.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Barry Coppinger faced calls to resign after the force was rated inadequate overall and in three key areas by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
The force has had six chief constables in almost as many years, and Mr Coppinger said his decision not to put himself up for re-election in May will allow Richard Lewis, who took over as top officer in April, space to make the necessary changes.
Mr Coppinger said: “I hope this will enable everyone to now get behind the new chief constable Richard Lewis and support him as he takes forward robust plans to drive forward improvements.
Following a weekend of reflection I am today announcing that I will not be standing at the PCC election in May 2020.— Cleveland PCC (@Cleveland_PCC) September 30, 2019
I hope everyone will get behind the new Chief Constable Richard Lewis and support him as he drives forward improvements.
Read more: https://t.co/BalZLlVx2H pic.twitter.com/YLyszFW0Fd
“For that to happen, it requires everyone to be pulling in the same direction and it has become clear to me that the current focus on me and calls for my resignation will not allow that to happen.
“Richard needs to be able to get on with the job without such distractions.
“Change is already well under way and in my remaining months in office and in meetings with the HMI I will do all I can to ensure that continues.”
Last week, the Labour PCC had said he would seek re-election, saying his job was to scrutinise the work of the chief constable.
But since the damning HMICFRS report came out, he has faced hostile media coverage and calls to stand down from local politicians, including the Tory Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen.
Mr Coppinger has served two terms as PCC and he said the force’s problems date back four decades.
He said: “When I first came into office I made a decision to shine a light on what had gone on, to resolve those issues, reforming approaches to standards and ethics so the force could move forward.
“That did result in negative attention on the force but it was the right thing to do.
“I expect this work to continue so the chief constable and the next PCC do not have to spend so much time and energy on dealing with historical wrongdoing.”
A string of scandals has plagued the force, which covers Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough.
Former chief constable Sean Price was sacked for gross misconduct in 2012, seven officers were under investigation after journalists’ phones were unlawfully monitored, and there have been long-standing claims of racism within the ranks.
Work practices were recently described by the chief inspector of constabulary as being about as “inefficient as you can possibly imagine”, with officers having to share laptops and bodyworn cameras.
The Tees Valley elected mayor welcomed the news, but feared it might be too late.
Mr Houchen said: “This is long overdue.
“It’s just so sad that it had to get this bad before action was taken.
“This decision is clearly the right one for the force and the people of Teesside and will provide the clean break that is so desperately needed if our police force is to improve.
“l’m surprised, whoever, that Barry hasn’t resigned and will continue to draw his £70,000 salary, which as far as the people of Teesside are concerned is a reward for failure.
“With Barry Coppinger standing down we now have the opportunity to start to rebuild our police force. I’m just concerned that the rot is so bad it may be too late.”