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Finding a better way to police
The Independent Police Commission review, chaired by Lord John Stevens, published its report Policing for a Better Britain in November. The long-awaited review was billed as the most comprehensive analysis of policing for half a century. The overall structure of the police service was last examined by a royal commission in 1962.
The report includes 37 recommendations, including scrapping Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and instead giving more power to local councillors and local authorities.
The report highlights the challenges that the police face in the modern world: ‘Today policing takes place against the backdrop of deep social transformations – a global economic downturn, quickening flows of migration, widening inequalities, constitutional uncertainty, and the impact of new social media. Crime levels have fallen, but the police and their partners face the challenge of new forms of criminal activity, including cybercrime, fraud, terrorism, and the trafficking of people and goods.’
THE ROLE OF PCCs
PCCs came into effect in November 2012 and became responsible for a combined police force area budget of £8 billion. The role of the PCCs was to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. But while the report says that ‘the principle of democratic accountability that underpins the PCC experiment is sound and needs protecting’, in its current form, the PCC model had ‘fatal systematic flaws.’
The report says: ‘There is mounting evidence of serious difficulties in how PCCs are operating on the ground. There is little public knowledge of, or support for, this experiment in democratic policing. There have been well-documented problems with how PCCs appointed their staff and handle their relations with chief officers. It remains difficult to envisage how a single individual can provide effective democratic governance of police forces covering large areas, diverse communities and millions of people. In summary, we are confronted with the spectre of an experiment that is failing.’
As such the report says the PCC model should be ‘discontinued in its present form at the end of the term of office of the 41 serving PCCs.’
It says that more power should be given to local councillors and local authorities.
This could be done introducing a legal requirement on the police to organise internal force boundaries in ways that are coterminous with the lowest tier of local government, and legislating to give local government a say in the appointment of local police commanders.
The report also suggests enabling lower tier local authorities to retain at least some of the police precept of the council tax which they will then use to commission local policing from their force. This funding would be ring‑fenced to fund the police service and could not be divert into other authority services.
It goes on to suggest giving those same lower tier local authorities the power to set priorities for neighbourhood policing, the local policing of volume crime and anti‑social behaviour, by formulating and agreeing with local police commanders policing plans for their town, city or borough.
The report says the ‘neighbourhood remains the key building block of fair and effective policing and it is vital that visible, locally responsive policing is protected in times of fiscal constraint.’ It recommends that this is achieved by a set of national minimum standards of police service which everyone should be entitled to received, and which local police forces and those who call them to account must deliver. To this end the Commission recommends that a Local Policing Commitment is introduced and should include a guaranteed minimum level of neighbour hood policing; an emergency response, or an explanation why this demand will not be met; a commitment to appropriate response times of a reported crime; and that a reported crime will be investigated or an explanation given of why this is not possible, with victims getting regularly updated on the progress of the investigation.
To raise standards of professionalism, the report recommends police officers be given a new chartered status and could face being struck off a professional register if they are found to have committed serious misconduct.
A ‘chartered’ police officer accountable to a strong professional body will improve public confidence and give greater competence and status to police officers and staff, the report says.
All police officers must register with the College of Policing. Existing officers will be registered under ‘grandfather’s rights’, but all must demonstrate they are properly accredited within five years. This provides a mechanism for continuous professional development and means that those without accreditation will leave the service.
The College of Policing would hold the register of all chartered practitioners, which would be publicly available, and those found to have committed a serious misconduct should be struck off from the register.
A STRUCTURE FIT FOR PURPOSE
The commission found that the present structure of 43 separate police forces for England and Wales is no longer cost effective or equipped to meet the challenges of organised and cross-border crime. In a world of greater mobility and fiscal constraint the model is untenable, it says. However there is little or no consensus about a better alternative arrangement. The Commission makes a clear recommendation that change is essential and believes there are three serious options to consider: locally negotiated mergers and collaboration agreements; 10 regional police forces; or a national service.
PROCURING IT AND TECHNOLOGY
The report says that the procurement of technology by the police services continues to be problematic, referencing ACPO’s president Sir Hugh Orde’s description of it being ‘in a bit of a mess’ in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The Commission recommends the development of a national procurement strategy coordinated jointly by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, for IT, non IT consumables and forensic services. The aim is to secure integration, common standards and value for money.
The Commission also recommends that every force provides all its police officers and operational staff with all 19 basic technology operating system capabilities (as identified in the HMIC report ‘Taking time for Crime of 2012) as the minimum and ensures that all software updates are routinely installed. The Commission also says it would be highly beneficial that officers can access intelligence remotely through a single integrated platform.
In response to report, ACPO President Sir Hugh Orde said: “This is a wide ranging report offering views on many of the critical questions facing the police in a transforming society. It shows the increasing complexity of a service which must deliver neighbourhood policing, maintain public order, develop effective counter-terrorism structures, look after victims and adapt to new forms of crime, all with fewer resources.
“In meeting these challenges we note the Commission’s view on the importance of operational coordination between chief officers, supplied by ACPO. The enduring requirement for these leadership functions is distinct from but complementary to the new and vital role of the College of Policing in supporting standards, procedures and training. With Police and Crime Commissioners, ACPO is working towards a clear framework for operational coordination for the future.”
The review was commissioned in 2011 by Labour and it is expected that the party implement many of them in its next election manifesto. The coalition government however has said it will look at the report, but it is not required to implement any of the recommendations.”