"I’ve been reading the comments on ConservativeHome about our new policy proposals on the police with great interest. Denis Cooper asked how an elected commissioner who goes off the rails could be removed. In the document we propose a citizens’ power of recall to deal with this – which would be quite an innovation in this country. Denis also suggests dissolving bigger forces so that they become more local. We suggest that this could be the natural evolutionary path if a Serious Crime Force were created, since forces could become smaller if major crime was being handled by a national force.
Umbrella Man says that more officers will mean more cash, but the thrust of the document is that a 25 per cent increase in police manpower in the last five years hasn’t resulted in more officers on the streets or an equivalent fall in crime. As Paul Oakley notes, reform to ensure that resources are used productively will be at least as important as scaling up resources in the future – indeed, it should be the precondition, or else money will be wasted. If we could increase the time which an officer spends on the streets from one fifth to two fifths, we would double the police presence without recruiting a single additional officer.
I completely disagree with Umbrella Man that consulting as to whether we should move to a Serious Crime Force or drive closer co-operation between the 43 forces in England and Wales was lame. Creating a national force for the first time, albeit alongside local forces, would be a profound change to policing in this country. It is right for us to consult with the professionals about such a move, and in any case both options are viable – this really does need further consideration, not least in the light of the performance of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The Government’s ill-judged plans for regional forces foundered partly because it failed to consult properly on the plans or listen to expert warnings about the impact. Shallow, headline-grabbing pronouncements on crime such as marching yobs off to cashpoints have been Blair’s way; they should not be ours. Proposing a Serious Crime Force and potentially smaller local forces at all was, I believe, a bold move. I certainly enjoyed reading that the Liberals’ attack earlier this week that our proposals weren’t new, and Tony McNulty’s bizarre claim that we were catching up with Labour. In the event they were both made to look rather silly. Perhaps they’ll have learnt to read the final report before commenting next time.
Arthur Burgess says that an armed forces-style police college would lead to a drop in morale, but our paper highlights the inadequacy of management and leadership training at both middle and senior rank levels. We note that the Bramshill police college is not providing the same depth of leadership training as the armed forces’ equivalents. With the growing sophistication of crime, increasingly large budgets and workforces to manage, rising consumer expectations and complex deployment of modern technology, police leaders of the future are going to need to be better trained and equipped than ever before. As policing changes and becomes more specialist, I don’t believe it will any longer make sense to stand in the way of the direct entry of talented individuals into police forces at higher ranks later in their careers.
Several posts mention the experience in New York and we feature this strongly in our report. The key point was that crime fell in NYC in the 1990s by twice the rate in the rest of the States, so the claim that it was all down to changes in the abortion law, as made in "Freakonomics", is nonsense: good policing was the only plausible explanation. The public always knew that police on the streets was the way to make a neighbourhood safer. At last that argument is being won.
The "easy to implement" reforms proposed by Cllr Nicholas Bennett – use civilian staff to do clerical jobs and joinup databases to avoid repeated data entry – are set out in our report. I’d urge people to have a look at our flowchart mapping the bureaucratic obstacles following an arrest. This was constructed by Aidan Burley, a Hammersmith & Fulham councillor and management consultant who worked with me over the last three months, visiting police stations and analysing the bureaucracy. It’s a sobering read, and an indictment of the Government’s failure to address the problems. Indeed, Labour has shown no leadership when it comes to sorting out disjointed police IT, and it has exacerbated the problems by adding to the burden of red tape, for instance by introducing the ‘stop’ form. Blair’s belated announcement last week that the Inspectorate of Constabulary would look into the issue of bureaucracy appeared to be a feeble attempt to say something ahead of our report. If the Inspecorate’s study is of the same depth as its proposal for regional forces, none of us need hold our breath.
My thanks to Tim and ConservativeHome for giving the report such coverage and for allowing this discussion. I’ve found it interesting and useful. I hope that readers will have time to wade their way through our report – it’s a mere 250 pages and a great bedtime read – and that they will contribute to the online discussions which we will be holding on the Police Reform Taskforce’s new website, www.policereform.com, after Easter. Britain’s police forces need this debate, and I am proud that the Conservative Party has initiated it."