This is the sixth in a series of posts on the seminal Policing for a Better Britain report.
Joining up the criminal justice system
As I said in a previous post, one of the main attractions to me of the Stevens Report, as Policing for a Better Britain is more commonly known, is its willingness to tackle the main problems facing modern policing, even those that are sensitive and difficult.
High up on the list is finding a national structure which is fit for purpose.
The report asks how we reconcile the need for police services to be locally accountable while facing up to the fact that the current structure of 43 separate forces in England and Wales is no longer cost effective, nor equipped to meet the challenges of organised and cross-border crime.
This is a challenge which also faces the modern probation service. The number of probation services was reduced from 104 to 84 in 1966, then reduced again to 42 in 2001 to try to harmonise with police force and court areas. However, for reasons mainly to do with economies of scale, this co-terminosity was abandoned and there are currently 35 probation trusts.
This year sees a further, more radical change – the MoJ’s Transforming Rehabilitation project means that from 1st June 2014 there will be a National Probation Service (divided into six regions) to work with high risk offenders and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies who will work with low-medium risk offenders. This means that not only will there now be two probation services but there will be almost no common boundaries with other criminal justice agencies, making system-wide coordination very difficult, to say the least.
Can the police service avoid a similar fate?
What are the options?
The Stevens Report consulted with a wide range of stakeholders and experts but could find “little or no consensus” about what would be the most effective new structure. They came up with three main options:
- Locally-negotiated mergers and collaboration agreements: actively encouraging forces to group together and supporting voluntary amalgamations, enhanced cooperation learning best practice lessons from the bottom up:
- Regionalisation: a coordinated amalgamation into approximately 10 regional police forces;
- National Police Service: the creation of a single national police service (Police England and Wales) or two separate forces (Police England and Police Wales).
The Stevens Report doesn’t try to resolve this issue, suggesting instead that there should be an urgent national consultation to find the right way forward. I certainly agree about the urgency. Police and Crime Commissioners are being actively encouraged by the government to consider merging the operation of blue light services at a local level and some have started the process. Individual police services will have to make long-term commitments to working together with fire and ambulance services which will be meaningless if they are about to be submerged into new regional or national bodies.
So, there seems to be a consensus that something needs to be done, and done quickly – the question is: what is the best structure for the future of English and Welsh policing?
I would be very interested in readers’ views, especially any Scottish police officers on their experiences of Police Scotland.