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Do we need a national police service?
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.

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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:

  1. 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:
  2. Regionalisation: a coordinated amalgamation into approximately 10 regional police forces;
  3. 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.


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Related posts

Can we afford the police service we need?

One of the difficulties in getting a more efficient police force that spends a larger proportion of its funds on policing rather than administration is getting rid of an excessively bureaucratic culture. The Stevens report treads a fine line here as some its remedies, to my mind, seem to imply introducing a number of new systems which will struggle to streamline procurement and cut waste.

Raising police standards and tackling misconduct

This seems to be a particularly bold and radical approach to addressing two separate problems. The Stevens Report makes a very strong recommendation that this new ISPC should be entirely independent of the police service. This seems to me to be absolutely right in terms of the investigation of serious complaints. However, although the inspection function would benefit from a broader perspective, surely the intimate knowledge of police officers is absolutely key to make inspections a helpful and constructive exercise, rather than just a bureaucratic requirement?

Building a police profession

This approach clearly brings benefits to police officers in terms of elevating their professional status and celebrating the high standards already embraced by many. The flipside of the coin is that there would be much more openness about the inner workings of the police, particularly in terms of misconduct and press relations.

A new deal for the police

The report acknowledges the Winsor review, supports some aspects of it and rejects others. It criticises the way that Winsor has been handled and says their needs to be much more engagement and discussion with police officers themselves. It’s attitude to Winsor is summarised as…

Police Governance – replacing Police and Crime Commissioners

There is a strong emphasis throughout the report on community engagement and neighbourhood policing and there is a specific recommendation to ensure that accountability goes down to the neighbourhood level by establishing “participatory budgeting units” to ensure greater local community involvement in allocating resources.

Creating effective Police partnerships

It should be remembered that “Policing for a Better Britain” was commissioned by the Labour Party and it is, therefore, no surprise to see the issue of privatisation tackled head-on. The report is not against privatisation but recommends that outsourcing should only be considered by reference to five key principles:

2 Responses

  1. With instruments like the internet used to commit and facilitate crime on an international scale, the current police model in UK is way past its fitness for purpose. A national police force for England and Wales with a current numbers at around 120,000 officers looks to me like a very viable and manageable organisation that will increase not only the capability of the police, produce cost efficiencies and make international cooperation much easier at time when it is very desirable.

  2. I definitely think we need a single police force in England (‘Police England’). The territorial forces are well past their sell by date. Some of them represent ‘counties or areas’ that don’t exist e.g. Cleveland, Humberside, and West Mercia et al. Just think, one badge, one uniform, one livery, one computer system etc. I’d also set up an FBI style organisation to tackle major crimes and have regional hubs to support it. Finally, I’d have a single ambulance service (Royal Ambulance Service) and a single fire service (‘Fire and Rescue England’ [FRE]).

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