Police authorities, responsible for the strategic direction of police forces, are failing to connect with the public and Home Secretary David Blunkett wants views on options for replacing them. Police governance is one of the issues discussed in a consultation paper – “Policing: Building Safer Communities Together”. The paper sets out a broad vision of a modernised, representative, more responsive, local police service.Police authorities are made up from local councillors, magistrates and independent members. Home Office research undertaken with the Association of Police Authorities revealed that the public does not have a say in decisions about policing and that people want better communication, information and involvement. The vast majority of people involved in the research had not heard of police authorities. The few that had heard of them generally didn’t know what they were or what their role was. And the research found that about three quarters of police authorities relied on old style consultative public meetings as their principal formal consultation mechanism with communities, despite none considering them to be very effective.
The options for securing better scrutiny and oversight range from arrangements for the police service alone through to looking at community safety as an entity. Options for governing police services include a ‘police board ‘covering a force area, but made up differently with members being drawn from a variety of sources. Some members could be appointed from local government and others directly elected. Some could be appointed by magistrates, nominated by basic command units or neighbourhood panels. Others could be co-opted by the police board because of special skills. Another option would be to have directly elected police boards.
The consultation paper also sets out options taking a wider view of community safety to embrace the performance of other partners and agencies, not just the police. This might involve a new structure with neighbourhood panels, local policing partnerships or community safety boards, with a strategic police board at force level. This would give a genuinely ‘bottom up ‘ approach to decision making on community safety issues and provide opportunities for direct input and engagement for communities together with strong oversight mechanisms at a local level.
Responses to the paper are required by 27th January 2004.