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October 03, 2006


Richard Weatherill

We have a CPF meeting tonight on the subject of Police reform, so I was interested to read your post, James. This is the first suggestion I've seen that Nick Herbert might not be opposed to some merging of police forces. In the past, he and DC have both spoken of the benefits of forces federating together (at their own initiative) in order (e.g.) to achieve economies of scale in various technical support areas. However, this has usually been contrasted against a full merger.

Denis Cooper

I don't see how the direct election of police chiefs would work in practice as the police forces are presently structured. Take Thames Valley Police, which covers three counties - Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. How are voters spread over those three counties supposed to be able to make an informed choice between candidates for the job of Chief Constable? OK so then instead of directly electing a chief for the whole of the Thames Valley, say voters in Reading vote for a local chief for Reading, and because it's just a town rather than three counties they may get some idea about the merits of different candidates. But then the budget available to the Reading police chief for policing Reading would be no more than an allocation from the overall budget for the Thames Valley Police. He could decide how to use that budget, within limits, but the only ways he could get more resources would be a) arguing successfully that more of the Thames valley budget should go to Reading, and less to say Oxford; or b) asking Reading Borough Council for a supplementary budget - the risk then being that in future years he would be seen to have lower needs, and get a lower allocation from Thames Valley. In my view if the people in Reading are going to elect a police chief for their town, then for that to have any practical meaning the town must have its own police force, with its own budget predominantly raised out of local taxes. Which is how it used to be, before Reading Borough Police, Oxford City Police and the three county forces were merged into Thames Valley Police.


Judging by the New York experience and what the Miami police chief said on Monday, it does seem that if you want to reduce crime, police chiefs need to be goal-directed to reducing crime, accountable for doing so, and given the techniques to make this possible. I'm not sure that direct accountability to elected mayors is necessary, but it seems like a useful tool to focus them on the goal rather than the process. The police also need societal support in returning the country from high-crime society to low-crime society, and it will need more prisons - looking at the US data, halving crime requires doubling the prison population; the US has returned their murder rate to 1950s levels (lower today than in the '30s and '40s!); but this required at least the remote possibility of a death sentence and it has also involved a great increase in the prison population to historically unprecedented levels. Is that a price worth paying? I think so, but socoety needs to decide.

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