Police reform in the UK is long overdue but all three main political parties are currently failing to take the initiative, according to a report in the latest Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
'Responding in a modern world: An investigation into UK policing structures' (published in the RUSI Journal this week) investigates calls for police forces to merge into a smaller number of larger police forces, and examines the status of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) - an increasingly influential private company, which its own senior officers believe would benefit from more independent oversight.
Although there are plans for more collaboration between forces to deal with the twenty-first century threats to the UK, the report warns that these will not be as beneficial as mergers which would make the police more efficient; reducing bureaucracy, duplication and costs.
'Senior figures in politics are failing to take the initiative on mergers, even though many believe the number of forces should be reduced to make the police more efficient and to reduce duplication and costs,' the report says.
Outlining a lack of political will to reform the police - largely because the issue is not regarded as a vote winner - the report quotes Sir Hugh Orde, ACPO President, who suggests 'current structures militate against mergers - it requires political will'.
Considering police structures in the wider context, the report also addresses ACPO as an organisation that has become more important in recent years and, as a result of its status as a private company, more controversial.
Recommending that ACPO looks at a range of possibilities to improve its governance including introducing non-executive directors or becoming a non-departmental government body or agency, with new legislation to facilitate independent oversight, the report suggest this could be part of a wider review into police structures. The report's author Margaret Gilmore, Senior Research Fellow at RUSI writes:
'The ACPO has become an increasingly influential and much needed part of the policing mechanism in the UK, but its structures have not changed to reflect this new status. It lacks the strong, independent oversight of other organisations funded largely by the taxpayer which deal closely with Government matters.
'ACPO has become the unofficial co-ordinator of forces and a single voice for the police even though it is a private organisation. With so many forces, each with an autonomous chief constable, a central co-ordinator has increasingly been needed, and the ACPO has by necessity stepped into the breach...
'ACPO and the Police Service fulfil a critical function, and fulfil it well. But modernisation in both cases could make them more effective and efficient and thus more capable of responding in a modern world. ACPO is pushing for this, but finds change is not easy - not least because there now appears to be a lack of will for actually bringing about reform, from the centre...
'With the help of central government, it should continue to strive to put in place independent oversight and mechanisms of scrutiny similar to those for other government-funded bodies. This would help it to maintain its position at the centre of policing and make it more constitutionally robust. The ACPO leadership , not least the ACPO President Sir Hugh Orde, recognises this.
'It will be for the next government - whoever comes to power - to see the need for this and to generate the political will to actually make it happen.'
In times of crisis the ACPO President often sits on the Government's crisis committee COBRA. The organisation also advises government ministers; prepares for and responds to security threats and incidents; produces operational guidance for police forces; runs some security databases; and has a small number of commercial activities.
The report featuring in the RUSI Journal is based on research from a wider forthcoming RUSI paper on the effectiveness of Government Security Structures. To read the article in full, please click here
Note to Editors
1. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters. For more on RUSI and its activities, please visit www.rusi.org
2. The RUSI Journal is the leading publication of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Published six times a year, it is an internationally recognised authority on defence and security issues.
3. Margaret Gilmore is a Senior Research Fellow with RUSI, specialising in government policy on counter-terrorism, policing, Northern Ireland and the 2012 Olympics. She was previously the BBC's Senior Home Affairs Correspondent. Her book The Terrorist Hunters, written with Andy Hayman was published in October 2009.
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