Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell. Photo: Jason Roberts
Like so many things in 2020, the election of Merseyside’s new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) was postponed.
At the time Emily Spurrell was standing as Labour’s candidate for the PCC and had to think again about what to do with her time after gearing up for the campaign trail.
“It was very strange, I had so many ideas about priorities but they all changed when the pandemic started,” she explains to LiverpoolWorld .
“I did some voluntary work in the community and at food banks. It was a very difficult time, but what I loved to see was the community spirit that came out of it.”
She is a fan of the hugely popular parkrun, a free weekly, community event where people can walk, jog, run or just spectate in local parks and open spaces.
During lockdown she went running around the area of Mossley Hill, south Liverpool, where she lives with her husband Graeme and labrador Spencer, who she got last year as a puppy.
“It’s good to walk with the dog to clear your head and I started running a few years ago.”
This year has been a very different story. Spurrell is now the PCC after being voted in during May, 2021, with a landslide victory of 178,875 votes and 57% of the public vote.
PCCs were brought in by the Government in 2012 to replace Police Authorities and although they do not run the police force on an operational level, they are required to ensure that the police are answerable to the communities they serve.
Spurrell’s appointment as PCC means the city of Liverpool now has a number of women in powerful leadership positions.
Serena Kennedy was confirmed as Merseyside’s first female chief constable in March and will work alongside Spurrell and Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson, the first black woman to be elected to run a major UK city.
It feels like a historic moment for Liverpool, with women who could lead the way as changemakers.
Spurrell says: “I believe we need more women in leadership positions, particularly in sectors such as politics and policing, which are traditionally male-dominated.
“I think it’s particularly important for younger women, who aspire to take up leadership roles, to see women in these roles and it will hopefully encourage them to forge ahead with their careers in these fields.
“The fact we have three women in leadership roles here in Liverpool is yet another good example of how our city leads the way and it gives us an opportunity to ensure the female voice and experience is heard at a senior level.
“It also means that issues such as violence against women and girls, which historically may not have been prioritised, are now high on the agenda and given the attention they deserve.
“There is a strong commitment from all three of us to focus on this critical issue and make a difference for women across our region. We are united in our determination to get it right for victims and survivors.”
The role of the PCC
Power to appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account for running the force and dismiss them if required, sits with the PCC.
They also have the authority to set the police force’s budget – Merseyside’s is over £370 million – and should ensure local joined up working.
Spurrell says Merseyside Police has been consistently rated as the best performing urban force in England and Wales, yet Merseyside local authorities have seen some of the highest cuts in funding per person.
Her vision for Liverpool
Spurrell has decried “policing on the cheap” and will be lobbying central government for funds to increase the number of police officers in the region.
She believes communities want to see a visible police presence and would like a dedicated officer or police community support officer for every neighbourhood. She also wants to invest in community projects which tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
During her campaign her three overarching priorities were visible and accountable policing, supporting victims and communities and a fair and effective criminal justice system.
She is a fan of restorative justice, which brings victims of crime together with offenders in a positive way and something that has already been happening across Merseyside.
Spurrell does not appear overawed by her wide-ranging brief, which includes working on issues of national significance.
She has been given the role of deputy lead for two portfolios covering criminal justice and also mental health and custody by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and will be working alongside other PCCs, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
She is in regular contact with other PCCs and finds it helpful to share challenges and best practice.
She is also chair of Merseyside’s criminal justice board which brings together criminal justice agencies across the region.
It is now 100 days for Spurrell in office which she has described as a “whirlwind of activity” and although events have been scaled back due to Covid-19 and she hasn’t yet released her Police and Crime Plan 2021-2025 - a blueprint setting out important local issues, how she intends to tackle them and what the police should be focussing on - she has managed to engage with the local community.
Funding and the community
Spurell has held more than 40 events during a six-week consultation asking local people for their views on priorities for policing and community safety and has already had feedback from more than 2,700 residents.
She has also visited every local policing area and connected with MPs, councillors, leaders in community safety and criminal justice and third sector organisations.
Local charities and eligible groups have been invited to contact her with proposals for projects which she could submit for funding.
Spurrell has secured more than £3.3 million of new funding so far to cut local crime and support victims which includes investment from the Home Office and the MoJ and is eager for more.
Some of the funding will go towards extra independent advisors offering specialist care and support to survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse, male victims of sexual violence and Merseyside’s first ever project working with young people who abuse their parents or carers.
Part of the funding will also be allocated towards training teachers to increase awareness of domestic abuse in schools and colleges.
Before she became PCC Spurrell called on Merseyside Police to treat misogyny as a hate crime.
In March the Home Office said every police force in England and Wales would be instructed to record crimes motivated by misogyny as a hate crime.
The Law Commission, an independent body which keeps the law in England and Wales under review, is due to produce a report with recommendations about hate crime legislation.
Spurrell says: “Violence against women doesn’t get treated as seriously as other crimes and that’s down to misogyny.
‘It’s important that there is public awareness which could start with tackling what might be seen as low level issues such as misogynistic jokes in the workplace, but they all play a role.”
Spurrell’s focus on misogyny is timely with the rise of the so-called incel (involuntary celibate) movement, an online culture fuelled by the hatred of women.
Other priorities include tackling LGBTQ+ hate crime in the region and improving the situation of female offenders, particularly those behind bars due to ‘low level’ crimes such as not paying their TV licence, by diverting them away from the criminal justice system.
She has already raised awareness around modern slavery.
A diverse police force
Merseyside Police has a workforce of over 6,000 made up of police officers, community support officers, special constables and staff.
In 2021 the force’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation stood at 3.2%.
Spurrell made a statement this year on the first anniversary marking the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by a police officer in the United States, stating she wants to encourage diversity across all ranks, monitor public encounters with the police, scrutinise stop and search powers and drive out discrimination in all its forms.
She is one of a number of relatively youthful PCCs including Kim McGuinness in Northumbria, but has a history of being politically engaged from an early age which she credits her mother for.
“I grew up in Greater Manchester and my mum used to teach Citizenship at my school. I was very involved in student democracy and feminist group politics, writing to MPs and fighting for women’s rights.”
She is a member of leading human rights charity Amnesty International and is part of the Labour Women’s Network.
The network was established over three decades ago to secure women’s equality in the Labour Party and Spurrell says she has been “passionately” involved in their training sessions and shared experiences about what it’s like to be a woman in politics.
Spurrell went to university in Leeds where she studied for a politics degree then moved to Liverpool about a decade ago and worked for a university student union leading on policy and campaigns work.
She was first elected as a councillor for Mossley Hill ward in Liverpool City Council in May 2012 and two years later was appointed as the lead for community safety, a role she held for three years and oversaw the development of a domestic abuse strategy.
Spurrell has previous experience of the PCC’s office, serving as Merseyside’s Deputy PCC from September 2017 to March 2019, leading on work to tackle violence against women and girls. She also successfully lobbied for all police staff to be paid the living wage.
In March 2019 Spurell’s predecessor Jane Kennedy left the Labour Party saying it had failed to deal with anti-Semitism.
Spurrell then resigned from the Deputy PCC role disagreeing with Ms Kennedy’s decision.
She says: “I took on the role of Deputy PCC to support a Labour PCC on delivering for the people of Merseyside.
“However, when the former PCC took the decision to leave the Labour Party, I felt this was the wrong thing to do for the people of Merseyside, who had voted for a Labour PCC and I, reluctantly, took the decision I could no longer carry on in the role.”
After leaving the PCC’s office, Spurrell was appointed as an adviser on tackling violence against women and girls to the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram.
The PCC has teamed up with Rotheram again on a number of issues including releasing a joint statement condemning homophobic attacks across Liverpool City Centre.
Rotheram has pledged a green industrial revolution, working towards net zero carbon emissions for the city by 2040 and bringing in a London-style integrated transport service uniting bus, train and ferry services in a “tap-in, tap-out” network and “world-class” cycling and walking system.
Road safety sits under Spurrell’s pledge for visible and accountable policing and has called for enforcement, education and awareness for all road users and road design that ensures safety.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has praised Spurrell, Rotheram and Anderson as Labour voices who will work ‘tirelessly’ for the interests of the people of Liverpool.
Scrutiny forms a key part of the PCC role, not only does the PCC analyse the work of the police and the Chief Constable, but Spurrell’s £85,000-a-year role and actions are analysed by a Police and Crime Panel.
The panel, made up of ten local councillors and two independent members recruited from the local community. She will meet the panel six times a year and the meetings are always open to the public.
Her second meeting with the panel since starting her role will take place on 2 September and members of the public can watch a live-stream of the event.
Spurrell pledged to hold regular public meetings with the Chief Constable to ensure accountability during her campaign and her first public scrutiny session of Merseyside Police will be held on 7 September at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority chamber in Mann Island.
The PCC has asked the public to submit questions by 26 August about policing which she can put to Chief Constable Serena Kennedy and her team.
Spurrell says: “The chief constable does understand I am a critical friend and have a wider responsibility to ask questions.
“This is a city which represents an industrious community of people always ready to tackle challenges. I’m an adopted Scouser and I have fallen in love with Liverpool.”
Spurrell appears to have had a positive start, the coming months will test whether that love will continue to be reciprocated.