The New Local Government Network has called on Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to scrap police authorities and return their powers to elected Council Leaders. In a report ‘Your Police or Mine?’ it claims that the changes would not only save millions of pounds which could be pumped into front line policing but also give local people greater influence over local policing.
The future of police authorities has been uncertain following the announcement by former Home Secretary John Reid that plans to merge police forces across England and Wales had been dropped. The merger was proposed after concern that smaller forces were failing to cope with high profile investigations and counter-terrorism operations.
The report argues that Home Office targets for local police forces are still too heavy-handed and can distort a concentration on local priorities that may be different to the national focus. Central control can leave some communities feeling that local police are not dealing with their concerns and targeting the wrong areas.
Central control has resulted in the modern police force becoming detached from society, bogged down with bureaucracy and responsive to central policy rather than local need. Central Government crime targets can distort priorities and have little impact on altering the behaviour of policing on the ground.
The way forward is not to introduce a new layer of bureaucracy and potential political conflict, but use existing agencies and models of accountability to strengthen the role of local authorities and local leaders in policing. Leaders and local councils are directly accountable to their electorate and so their performance, or lack of it, has a tangible outcome at election time. This ultimate accountability ensures that communities are consulted and that policy responses meet local concerns, something that the public feel is too often missing from the existing police structure.