Monday, 8 March 2010

ACPO: Police Reform: Many questions but few answers

The Association of Chief Police Officers (or ACPO) is, without any doubt, a body well-placed to exercise enormous influence on government policy relating to law and order.

ACPO is a "Private Company Limited by Guarantee" but it receives funding from the Home Office and from Police Authorities.  It seems that there is growing concern within the Conservative Party that ACPO is now "too close" to and uncritical of the Labour government and that it is receiving public money even though it pursues private business interests - see The Times 8th March 2010 ("Tories accuse senior Police of giving cover to Labour" - Sean O'Neill - Crime Editor).

The Conservatives, should they win the next election, might well be seeking to make some, perhaps considerable, reforms of Policing including the possibility of elected police commissioners.  They set out some of their thinking as long ago as 2007 in "Policing for the People" in which they argued that crime was too high; that the Police had become alienated from the public and that there was excessive bureaucracy.  The existing structure of 43 Forces was "no longer a viable option" but two models based on the current 43 Forces could be viable: (1) locally accountable forces matched with effective leadership from the centre to ensure colloboration, or (2) locally accountable forces operating alongside a National Serious Crime Force.  There can be little doubt that such thinking might well be viewed as threatening to the status quo within the higher ranks of the Police.  Would it also actually reduce the already quite minimal local influence over Policing if the existing Police Authorities (including the Metropolitan Police Authority) were to be replaced with elected Commissioners?  There has been very minimal public debate about such proposals and it remains to be seen whether they emerge as formal Conservative Party policy.

Is time running out for ACPO?  Questions are being raised about whether it is truly independent of government given the monies it receives from government.  What would be its role if a future government drove through reforms?  It is also important to note that Parliament has never seriously considered ACPO's role even though it is one of the most powerful of the publicly funded bodies in the UK.  For instance, ACPO has been the driving force behind the National DNA Database and the rules relating to the retention of DNA profiles.  Also, should it receive public money if it is to be a competitor in the provision of various services such as provision of criminal record checks, road safety training etc.

One Chief Constable called, very recently, for mini courts to be established in shopping malls to deal with "shoplifters".  He seemed to ignore the fact that the Police frequently issue such offenders with Penalty Notices for Disorder or, possibly, cautions.  Such views, given their source, are treated seriously in many places and are "on message" with the government's ideas about "community justice".

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