Police patrol cash 'wasted'

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The Independent Online
Britain's police forces have been attacked for mismanaging their pounds 4bn a year budget for "bobbies on the beat". A leaked draft report by the Audit Commission, the value-for-money watchdog on local authorities, calls for radical management changes and a wholesale reappraisal of public expectations of the service.

The confidential draft, sent to all chief constables, appears to contradict forces' claims that 55 per cent of their strength is in "the front-line, public face of the police" with a finding that in practice only five per cent of police strength is out on patrol at any one time. This means that at a given moment only 125 officers out out 2,500 will be on the streets, the document says.

The final report is not due for publication until next spring, but the draft says beat officers are the worst trained and are inadequately briefed before going on patrol, while only five per cent of officers interviewed said they were systematically debriefed on their return.

It also reports significant differences in various forces' running of police control rooms, the treatment of 999 calls, shift patterns and the use of special constables to back up regular officers. Poor separation of real emergencies from less urgent cases is producing serious inefficiencies, the draft says.

The leaked investigation could not have come at a worse time for the Government, in the wake of John Major's pledge at the Conservative Party conference to put another 5,000 police officers on the beat, at a time of maximum pressure on public spending and a crusade against waste.

While the draft concludes that properly managed patrols have a key role to play, it says the public must not expect the police to respond to every call, while forces must reorganise patrol functions to ensure they are employed intelligently.

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