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Meet Surrey’s New Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend

Published on: 13 May, 2021
Updated on: 13 May, 2021

Lisa Townsend Surrey’s new Police and Crime Commissioner Image: PCC’s office

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Today is Lisa Townsend’s first day in her new job as Surrey’s police and crime commissioner.

Runner-up Lib Dem Paul Kennedy

The Conservative replaces Independent David Munro after she was elected with a total of 155,116 votes, with Liberal Democrats Paul Kennedy coming second with 112,215 votes.

Coinciding with the SCC election, because of a delay caused by the Covid pandemic, it was the highest turnout yet (38.8%) to elect the commissioner, whose first election in 2012 had a turnout of just 15.7% in Surrey.

The role involves holding the police force to account, setting its priorities and acting as a bridge between the police and the public.

Across England and Wales there are now 29 Conservatives, 11 Labour, and 1 Plaid Cymru PCC’s in the role.

Mrs Townsend, who lives in Ottershaw, has two law degrees and has left her communications job at the Institute of Directors to take on her new role for Surrey over the next three years.

Here, through Q & A,  we get to know the county’s first female PCC a little better.

What made you want to apply for the role of PCC?

For someone interested in public service, it is a role that really allows you to make a genuine difference to people’s lives, because of the fantastic convening power and the substantial budget there that has got to be spent very wisely. There’s an awful lot that can be done with it.

People get very caught up in the policing side and sometimes forget the crime element, where we can make a serious difference in terms of preventing people from being sucked down that path.

How will you ensure that more crimes are solved?

I haven’t started in the role yet but I will be speaking to the chief constable and other officers and we’ll take it from there.

What’s your experience in policing?

I don’t have experience in policing, I think that’s important. I don’t believe the right person for this job is a former police officer.

We have an excellent chief constable and the last thing they need is another police officer sat in the PCC chair.

It is absolutely independent from operational policing. It is about going out there listening to what residents want.

Do you see yourself first and foremost as PCC for Surrey or a Conservative?

Absolutely as the PCC. It’s no secret that as a Conservative there are 29 of us and a Conservative in the Home Office and we intend to work very closely together. But my duty is to the people of Surrey.

So if there are funding cuts from above, will you challenge those?

Of course.

Charlie Chirico dropped out of the race citing a ‘toxic environment’. Is that something you recognise?

I don’t recognise that, I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. She’s absolutely entitled to have her view but my experience has been very collaborative, as I expected.

Were you surprised by how well the Liberal Democrats did in a Tory heartland?

I wasn’t surprised how well they did. In a county that traditionally doesn’t vote Labour and has two former PCCs it was more a rejection of them than a vote of confidence in the Liberal Democrats, who have made no secret of the fact they want to see the post abolished.

Do you envisage any change in the police force under your direction?

Residents want more representation on the force so I do intend to change the direction in that sense. They want their voice heard.

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens

Surrey Police Chief Constable Gavin Stephens congratulated Mrs Townsend and welcomed her to her new role. He said: “We will be working closely with her on her ambitions for the county and continuing to deliver our commitments to our communities.

“I would also like to acknowledge the work of our outgoing commissioner, David Munro, who has done a lot to support not only the force, but the initiatives introduced during his tenure have made a significant difference to the residents of Surrey.”

Former county councillor David Munro is without an elected role for the first time in 26 years, so what are his plans?

Previous PCC David Munro

“I have lots of irons in the fire, gradually warming up,” he said. “I came to realise the criminal justice system is in a complete mess and there are whole swathes of offenders for whom prison just doesn’t work and we need to find an alternative.

“I don’t mean everyone; career burglars need to be locked up, but there are people in prison who ought not to be there. There’s precious little evidence that it works to make them change their ways.”

Mr Munro did not agree with Mrs Townsend’s analysis of the result and said the Liberal Democrats’ success was due to “a Liberal Democrat resurgence in the county as a whole”, but mainly that “they’re the only mainstream party who are against the concept of PCCs – and PCCs aren’t popular.”

He thought that the person on the street did not like the police being politicised.

Mrs Townsend’s closest contender, Paul Kennedy, who was re-elected to Fetcham West on Mole Valley District Council, said: “I believe this is the first time the Liberal Democrats have come second in a PCC election anywhere in the country. We have come a long way since we nearly lost our deposit back in 2012.

“We are clearly the second party in Surrey at all levels, as demonstrated by the councils we already run, and our gains in the elections on Thursday.

“We will continue to hold the Conservatives to account on behalf of residents. The people of Surrey pay the highest council tax in the country for our police.

“My challenge to the Conservatives is to start delivering better community policing and local accountability, better outcomes for the victims of crime, and above all better value for money for the people of Surrey.”

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