Headlines: March 29th, 2006

Proposals to merge police forces are based on misleading and misguided analysis, according to research published today by the independent think thank Policy Exchange. The study says big forces would be no more efficient or effective than smaller ones, even in dealing with serious cross-border crime, and it suggests the mergers may be an attempt to bring in regional government by the back door.”Size Isn’t Everything: Restructuring Policing in England and Wales”, has been written by Barry Loveday, Reader in Criminal Justice Administration at Portsmouth University. It recommends that instead of merging forces the Government should allow them to federate voluntarily where necessary. It suggests, too, that the remit of national policing agencies should be extended and that more power and responsibility should be given to Basic Command Units. Finally it recommends the modernisation of policing working structures and practices.

Based on an analysis of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary performance indicators, the study says that by forcing through ‘traumatic and counter-productive mergers’ against public and much professional opinion, the Government is wasting political capital and hindering the fight against crime.

The analysis shows that even in comparable force areas, there is no link between size and performance and it underlines this by pointing out that the worst performing force in England and Wales is the Metropolitan Police, which is also the largest, while in poorer rural areas the best performing forces – Dyfed-Powys and Cumbria – are the smallest.

The mergers, the report says, are driven by flawed logic and poor use of statistics and it quotes HMIC itself as saying, “Being bigger is not enough to guarantee strong protective services. Able leadership can also be influential in allowing smaller forces to punch above their weight on these issues.” Policy Exchange’s report goes on to claim that the proposed mergers would mean tax rises and taking police off the beat and they would reduce police accountability. It points out that the so-called superforces would each take in several county council areas and lead to multiple reporting lines, disenfranchising many local districts.

Amalgamation, it adds, would also destroy co-terminosity with the Crown Prosecution Service, courts and probation services, making it hard for them to cooperate with the police. The report continues, “The proposed new superforce areas match regional Government Office boundaries better than they do crime patterns, suggesting they are part of an attempt to introduce regional Government by the back door.”