Police forces `lack top-quality officers'

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S POLICE forces are suffering a shortage of top-quality chief officers, the head of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) said yesterday.

The comments by Peter Moorhouse, chairman of the PCA, come at a time when a third of forces in England and Wales have vacancies in senior posts. Fifteen of the 43 forces are without full-time assistant chief constables, a position that is usually second or third in command and pays from pounds 64,000 to pounds 74,000.

Mr Moorhouse said he was concerned that not enough high-quality chief officers appeared to be coming through the ranks: "One of the symptoms is the number of times chief officer posts have to be re-advertised, when clearly the police authority are not happy with the quality of officers who put themselves forward."

He said potential high flyers could benefit from taking a business course and gaining practical experience rather than getting a degree. "There's a lot of management-speak in the police service but I'm not sure how much substance there is," he said.

He did stress, however, that many current chiefs were of the highest calibre, both in terms of intellect and experience. He predicted that in four years' time all chief constables would have to undergo performance testing by the police authority.

The Home Office has set up a working party to examine leadership, graduate recruitment schemes and promotion after complaints about the shrinking pool of top candidates and lack of diverse experience among officers. Ministers are worried that some senior officers lack management skills and have questioned their ability to control multi-million pound budgets. Business leaders, managers, and senior members of ethnic communities are to be encouraged to join police authorities to improve standards.

Angela Harris, deputy of the Association of Police Authorities, and chairwoman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority, who is involved in the review, said: "It's the quality of these people we were beginning to question and whether they were of sufficient quality and sufficiently rounded individuals. I have likened them to clones.

"We need to have a good range of different sorts of people who are going up for the top level rather than everyone coming out of one pod all looking and acting the same."

The 15 forces without an assistant chief constable, or with only an officer acting in that post, are Gwent, Norfolk, North Wales, Wiltshire, Dyfed Powys, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Thames Valley, Northumbria, Cambridgeshire, Merseyside, Cleveland and North Yorkshire. The National Crime Squad is also advertising for someone to fill the post. Senior offices say recent retirements are to blame for the high number of vacancies.