25 November 2013
Last updated at 11:26 ET
Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) should be abolished and replaced by a new system, a review of policing in England and Wales has said.
The review led by ex-Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens said PCCs, introduced in 2012, should be scrapped in 2016 and more power given to local councillors and local authorities.
The review also recommends that some police forces are merged.
It says the current 43-force structure is “untenable”.
The review suggests the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Independent Police Complaints Commission are replaced, and a focus on neighbourhood policing is also being urged.
The review was commissioned in 2011 by Labour. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour would consult on the recommendations but “expects to implement the vast majority” of them in its next election manifesto.
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The battle-lines over the next stage of policing reforms are becoming clearer. Labour will go into the next election with a pledge to reform the system of police and crime commissioners, possibly by scrapping them; the Conservatives want to extend the powers of PCCs.
Labour now acknowledge the 43-force model of policing isn’t working, as Lord Stevens’ review found – and will advocate a move towards fewer but bigger forces.
The Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, supports collaboration between constabularies but has shied away from reducing the number of forces or compelling them to merge.
And while Mrs May believes the police service’s primary role is to cut crime, Labour has endorsed Lord Stevens’ view that police have a wider “social purpose” too – improving safety and well-being in communities.
The government has said it will look at the report, but it is not required to implement any of the recommendations.
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.
Lord Stevens said there were 37 “radical” recommendations, including a commitment to neighbourhood policing as the “building block of fair and effective policing”.
He said: “Faced with budgetary constraints and the government’s insistence that police are crime fighters, there is a danger of the police being forced to retreat to a discredited model of reactive policing.”
The review said the PCC model had “fatal systematic flaws” and “should be discontinued in its present form at the end of the term of office of the 41 serving PCCs.”
Lord Stevens said that some police forces should be merged, something Labour tried but failed to introduce seven years ago.
The review suggested three possible alternatives: locally negotiated mergers and collaboration agreements; 10 regional police forces; or a national service.
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.
Lord Stevens said the commission “reject” the decision made in January to reduce the starting salary of police constables by £4,000 to £19,000.
He said a level of pay should be set “commensurate with the qualifications and experiences of new recruits”.
The review’s survey of officers had found that the government’s “failure to engage the service in the programme of reform” had led to a “damaging stand-off” and “plummeting morale”, Lord Stevens said.
The review says the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Independent Police Complaints Commission should be replaced by a more powerful body that would ensure failings were addressed “without delay”.
Other recommendations include:
- Nationally recognised qualifications for officers
- A code of ethics for police officers and staff introduced
- New media guidelines
- Mobile access to intelligence, including the Police National Computer
- Cybercrime experts to be recruited directly into police forces
- Restrictions on the use of private companies such as G4S and Serco for policing functions
- The introduction of a national procurement strategy for IT and equipment
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This report will not gather dust on a shelf, it is a real plan for the next Labour government.
“Neighbourhood police on the beat, held to the highest standards with priorities set by local people.”
Policing and criminal justice minister Damian Green said: “Recorded crime has fallen by more than 10% since the government came to power and we have put in place long-term reforms to help the police continue that downward trend.
“We have stripped away targets and red tape to free police from desk-bound jobs; we have installed the National Crime Agency to take on organised crime; we have installed a College of Policing to professionalise policing; we have modernised outmoded pay and conditions; and we have introduced a newly-reinforced ethical framework to ensure police conduct is on an equal footing to cutting crime.”
Vice-chairman of the Police Federation, Steve White, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the organisation had concerns.
“We’re a little bit concerned that if you go down a chartered status – and you’re accountable to a body rather than the law – what’s to stop police officers out there saying, actually I need to make this arrest because I need to prove to the chartered body that I’m doing my job properly.”