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October 2020
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Chair of Police watchdog: Can anyone tell me what is so fundamentally wrong with the British Model of Policing?

‘Whilst there are areas for improvement in the current policing arrangements, I am extremely sceptical that USA-style elected commissioners and an FBI-esque National Crime Agency are the answer to our problems. I have no axe to grind with the US or its system of government, but I do know its different from the UK, and not everything from across the Atlantic can be imported and transplanted here. Now is not the time to experiment with untried, untested and uncosted structures superimposed on UK policing. The Local Government Association (LGA) has summarised this: -In difficult financial circumstances, we have to ask if this is the right time to change structures through additional elections, which could cost the same as 700 police officers.”

‘I’m also absolutely convinced that the Government is moving with indecent haste on these initiatives. On Monday (26 July) it published ‘Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people’ – as far as any commitments in the Coalition Agreement are concerned, the Government is not consulting on whether they should happen, but how best they can be implemented. I admire the Government’s resolve and sense of purpose but there are a whole range of alternative models and reforms that, at the very least, ought to be considered and debated. Colleagues from the Local Government Association (LGA) have some interesting suggestions, and whilst I may not agree with them on every detail they have a credible and legitimate argument. As far as I’m concerned the Government has not made the case for Commissioners – I sat and watched, like millions of others, three leadership debates on TV – during the recent election campaign and there wasn’t one mention of, or reference to, directly elected Commissioners, not one.

‘I do understand the Coalition Government’s desire to get on with introducing radical change, that’s perfectly natural but it has a higher duty and responsibility to govern wisely and well. Occasionally that may take a little longer but it will reap benefits in the long run, who wants to be associated with a disastrous policy that’s hastily conceived and implemented poorly? In my view there should be a much more wide-ranging and thorough assessment of the alternative models and current system before embarking on reform. Policing involves the state legitimised use of force, the right to deprive individuals of their liberty – it doesn’t get more important than this and its essential that the Government gets it right – hindsight doesn’t win any prizes or provide comfort to those who could be ill-served by these proposals.

‘I’m the serving Chair of a Police Authority and yes I’m facing abolition in the light of these proposals, but this is not the reason why I am speaking out. Its because I care passionately about policing in Kent. I’ve been privileged to serve on the Police Authority for almost 10 years now, and during my five years as Chair of the Kent Police Authority we have:

Rolled out neighbourhood policing across Kent and Medway. This includes 13 District based Task Teams to tackle

anti-social behaviour and crime
Reduced crime by over 30 per cent
Improved detections to near-record high levels

Achieved all this and more whilst having one of the very lowest levels of police council tax across counties in England and Wales

‘Now I think that’s a good track record, one that we can be proud of and a legacy that I want to protect. Those significant improvements have been led by a Police Authority of 17 members, made up of elected councillors and local people, appointed through a competitive selection process. I would argue that our successes are, in no small way, attributable to these complementary skill sets and the overriding tendency of local politicians to leave party politics outside, and concentrate on delivering the best possible policing for communities. All the powers ascribed to the Commissioner currently sit with Police Authorities, and in Kent, and elsewhere, we have shown that Police Authorities can be effective.

‘Fundamentally the Government’s problem is this – it is committed to introducing directly elected Commissioners but it doesn’t know how it will work in practice, or how it fits with the policing landscape as a whole. There’s too little substance, and too little detail, in its proposals to use them as the basis for reform. There are so many gaps, the case for taking the time to evaluate all the options, in a considered and measured fashion, is overwhelming.

‘I admit Police Authorities haven’t always got it absolutely right, and there is still a real challenge for us in terms of raising public awareness and visibility – but those problems are solvable given the political will. I think the Government’s rush to reorganise policing and ill-thought through structural reform, is foolish. Especially at a time when the police service is wrestling with the biggest financial crisis in living memory. The scale and scope of the proposed change will act as a massive distraction as the police service looks to drive through savings and efficiencies on an unprecedented scale whilst maintaining, and where possible improving, the service provided to the public. The Government’s proposed course of action, quite simply, doesn’t serve the best interests of local communities.

‘My personal plea to Ministers is to pause for a moment. Let’s reflect on the critical importance of policing reform, weigh the options up carefully, consult meaningfully with all shades of opinion and, in short, make every effort to get this right. Rapidly enacting reform and change isn’t an end in itself, the prize is for police reform that’s sustainable, sits comfortably with our British model of policing, and serves the best interests of local communities.’

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