Police angered by inefficiency claims

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Crime Correspondent

The police reacted angrily yesterday to a leaked report that claims many bobbies on the beat are inefficient, badly briefed and poorly trained.

The consultative draft report of the Audit Commission, the public-spending watchdog, calls for an overhaul of the patrol system, which costs pounds 4bn a year. It says the police cannot meet public expectations because the workload is increasing faster than they can cope with it and that much of the management is misguided and inefficient. This has resulted in a lot of dissatisfaction with foot patrols, the report found. But it did praise some police practices and concluded that "directed, intelligence- driven patrolling still has a key role to play". Yesterday the police said that there had been a sea-change in the use of beat officers in recent years and many benefits of patrolling were impossible to quantify.

The report comes shortly after John Major promised to pay for an extra 5,000 beat officers. The report calculates that only 5 per cent of police strength is out on patrol at any one time.

Yesterday police representatives challenged the findings of the commission. Fred Broughton, national chairman of the Police Federation, which represents beat officers, said: "A visible uniformed presence on the streets provides an effective deterrent against crime, a strong link with the community and a high level of reassurance." A recent survey found two out of five officers on patrol had made an arrest during their most recent period of duty, suggesting that their work was efficient.

Jim Sharples, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: " ... It is wrong to suggest that in general patrolling officers are neither directed nor adequately briefed for their role."

Superintendent Brian Mackenzie, president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said: "It's difficult to quantify the value of the patrolling officer. What's undeniable is that the public, particularly the vulnerable, such as the old, get tremendous reassurance from the patrolling officer."

Nevertheless, the report, which has been sent to all chief constables, describes "working a beat" as "close to the bottom rung of the police status ladder" and says officers are inefficiently deployed.

It queries whether even trebling the resources available for patrol would make any significant impression on crime. The report, which is likely to be significantly changed before it is published in April, appears to call into question police claims to be giving priority to putting officers on the beat.

One paragraph says that while police forces claim that 55 per cent of their strength is "the frontline, public face of the police", in practice only 5 per cent of police strength is out on patrol at any one time.

Briefings were said to have been prepared inadequately: only 5 per cent of officers said they were systematically de-briefed by their sergeants.

The report highlights the insatiable public demand on police time. It says police strength is up 8 per cent since 1980 but since then the number of 999 calls each officer has had to handle has risen by 160 per cent.