Nick Herbert's plan to put police officers back on the beat

4 April 2007

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has set out new proposals for a major shake-up of police forces to get officers back onto the beat.

Published this week, the report, ‘Policing for the People', is the result of a year-long study by the MP, who is Shadow Minister for Police Reform.

On becoming Party leader, David Cameron appointed Mr Herbert to lead a Police Reform Taskforce with a brief to examine what is needed to boost police performance and drive down crime.

The 250-page report calls for a reduction in bureaucracy to release police officers onto the beat, a new cadre of police reservists similar to the Territorial Army, and a national Serious Crime Force to tackle terrorism, drug dealers and major crimes which cross force borders.

Research by the Taskforce found that only 5.2 per cent of Sussex Police officers - 119 constables and 43 sergeants - are dedicated to neighbourhood policing, below the national average, even though the Force has made a particular commitment to neighbourhood policing.

'Policing for the People' sets out four key proposals for reform:

The structure of the police must enable them both to enhance community policing and step up the fight against serious crime. This will either require far more effective co-operation between forces than has happened so far, or the introduction of a national Serious Crime Force to work alongside local forces. The report praises Sussex Police for plans to share key services with the Surrey force, but points out that these arrangements are not being replicated elsewhere in the country.

The complexity and demands of modern policing require a professional workforce that is flexible, well trained and highly motivated. Pay should reflect team performance. Talented people should be able to enter directly into senior ranks and an armed forces-style senior staff college should prepare the police leaders of tomorrow.

  • The police's hands must be untied to give them the discretion they need and to release officers for frontline duties. Unnecessary forms should be scrapped and antiquated computer systems joined up to eliminate the multiple keying of data - a major impediment to efficiency. Central direction and targets should be replaced by locally accountable leadership and priority setting. Civilian staff or the private sector should be employed to do jobs which sworn officers do not need to do, and the police ‘family' should be extended, for instance through a new cadre of police reservists.
  • The police must be made properly accountable, rewarding activity that delivers a better service, not the kind which keeps officers busy and ticks boxes. The quid pro quo for reducing central intervention is strongly enhanced local accountability. Directly elected police commissioners should replace police authorities, with a brief to drive down crime. Communities should have a ‘right to policing' through regular beat meetings with local police officers, control of local community safety budgets, and access to independently produced information about crime. A revamped and truly independent inspectorate should monitor standards and value for money.

The report was launched by Conservative Party Leader David Cameron on Tuesday.  Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Nick Herbert said: "These proposals offer a better future for both police and public alike. The police will be released to do the job they want to do. Central interference will be minimised, professional discretion will be restored and committed officers will be rewarded for their success. The public will benefit from localised policing that is more responsive to their concerns, giving them a real voice and control to ensure the safety of their communities.  Police officers will be returned to the streets where people want to see them."

Earlier in the week a poll conducted for the Taxpayers' Alliance found that, while the police are generally held in high respect, less than a quarter of voters think that policing in their area has improved, half think policing represents poor value for money, three quarters do not know the name of a single police officer in their area and 94 per cent could not name the chairman of their local police authority.

Chairman of the Sussex Police Authority, Peter Jones, commented: "The public demands a responsiveness from those who oversee policing which the existing police authority structure simply can't deliver.  We need a new and direct link between the public and individuals accountable for policing.  The ballot box provides a tried and tested model.  We can put in place small 5/6 person scrutiny boards to provide reassurance for the public between elections that elected Commissioners are delivering to the highest standards of financial and ethical probity."

Former Sussex Detective Constable Johnno Hills, who lost his job after he spoke out about the problem of red tape and Home Office targets in policing, endorsed the proposals.  He said: "This report reawakens my hope that the police will be effective once again where it truly matters, redressing the balance on our streets."  Mr Hills' petition calling for a return to "real policing" has already received hundreds of signatures.  It can be viewed at www.realpolicing.com.

Last week Nick Herbert held a meeting with Storrington parish councillors and residents to discuss their ongoing concerns about antisocial behaviour and policing in the village.  Afterwards the MP commented:  "Many of the proposals in my report have arisen following discussions with police officers and members of the public in my constituency.  There is a universal feeling that officers need to be released from red tape so that they can spend more time on the beat."

The MP added: "I was impressed by a recent visit to Sussex Police's custody centre at Durrington, which is a modern facility run by the private sector.  These are exactly the kind of innovative ideas which can improve efficiency and free sworn officers for frontline duties".

"Policing for the People" can be downloaded from the Police Reform Taskforce's website, www.policereform.com.

Ends

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