In the Media

National policing could suffer under new watchdog, senior officer warns

PUBLISHED November 12, 2012

As candidates for the powerful new posts prepare for Thursday's elections, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), has voiced concern over the way national situations such as last summer's riots will be dealt with in the future.

Under the current system Chief Constables can call on neighbouring forces to help out by sending front line officers and other resources when they require assistance.

But senior officers are worried that issues of national concern will take a back seat under the new system as police commissioners seek to prioritise local matters.

Sir Hugh, who was Northern Ireland's chief constable before taking up his post at ACPO, said he will be seeking an early meeting with PCCs to ensure they understand the importance of the national agenda.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "If you look at organised crime, international crime, cyber crime, public order, firearms, all the things that require a national response, the resources come from the 44 forces.

"That's essential for national security, it's essential to keep local citizens safe, but I am not sure I would get elected as a PCC with a manifesto saying I will deliver against all the national policing requirements."

He added: "I think that is where the initial tensions will be, around how much of your devolved policing do you deliver to the national agenda and how much do you deliver to the local agenda.

"Some [PCCs] probably don't understand the complexity of our world but that doesn't surprise me. Our job will be to make sure they do as soon as they come in and hopefully people won't get themselves elected on undeliverable mandates because I think that will cause them problems early on … hopefully in most cases I think it will be resolved properly."

Sir Hugh said he believed the system of having 44 separate police forces is outdated and policing could be more efficiently delivered by dramatically reducing the number of constabularies in existence.

But he accepted that the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners throughout England and Wales has made that prospect unrealistic in the near future.

He explained: "Our model is flawed. We are delivering 21st century policing, with a 20th century model. We have 44 forces, a system designed in 1962, before colour television."

"It is flawed but chiefs will get on with what they have got. Frankly police and crime commissioners probably make any review even further down the line into the future, but so be it.

"The Government has made the decision - as did the last government - not to go down that route, they have got an absolute right not to do that and I have got an absolute right to give them my professional judgment.

"We now move on and what we have got to do is get on with it and try and make the inefficient system as efficient as we can because that is what we are paid to do."

Police and Crime Commissioners, who will earn up to £100,000 per year, will have responsibility for strategic decisions including setting budgets and priorities.

They will also have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables, but will not have any say in the operational side of policing.

Sir Hugh said tension was inevitable, but stressed that friction could actually be used to improve services.

He said: "There is no model to compare this with, this is not like anything in America, it is not like anything in Europe, it's different so we can't look elsewhere to understand what the likely consequences of this decision are but we will find out fairly shortly.

"There will be tension, that is a good thing. There should always be tension between those who hold us to account and those who deliver.

"Frankly one of my concerns is that you could see a situation where the relationship is too close. As a one to one relationship it could get too close and frankly that is not right either."