Police Superintendents' ConferenceUntrained officers left exposed by lack of staff

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SENIOR POLICE officers are being forced to take charge of murders and other serious cases, including firearms operations, despite not having any relevant training.

According to a study published today by detectives, understaffing has left senior officers supervising budgets and situations they barely understand.

In the report, one superintendent admits that his force failed to investigate properly the murder of an elderly woman because of a lack of experienced detectives. A second officer says he signed a pounds 7.5m budget without knowing anything about it. Another superintendent talks of his "dread" of having to take charge of firearms incidents because he has so little experience in dealing with guns.

The officers' concerns are outlined in a study of six police forces - Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Lancashire, Wiltshire, West Mercia and Kent. During last year, superintendents and chief superintendents were questioned about their work.

The report, by Dr Annette Davies of the Cardiff Business School, is published today at the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference in Bristol.

Its detail makes disturbing reading. A superintendent in Greater Manchester discloses: "I have no firearms training, although I command such incidents daily, and since 1989 I have had very little public disorder training ... if it went wrong and if someone got shot and there was a big inquiry, `well', they would ask, `have you had your firearms course?' "

A superintendent in Kent says: "What training did I receive? Zero ... in terms of budget management skills - and on the first day someone said `sign this' and I signed for a pounds 7.5m budget - it's a worry, isn't it?"

A superintendent from the West Midlands stated: "We're now creating generalists for top [officer ranks] rather than specialists, which has a poor impact on the quality of delivery. It's like getting a brain surgeon suddenly to be a bloody chiropodist." He added: "There are great problems now in being sued, for example, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry."

A superintendent from Lancashire police reveals: "We've found out about [unsolved] murders that no one's done anything about." He cited the example of a woman in her eighties who collapsed and died in her home after a gang of youths attacked her bungalow. There was no detective inspector available to visit the scene and a uniformed officer sent a detective sergeant who failed to arrest a key suspects or cordon off the scene.

The study's findings will be used by the Superintendents' Association to press for change.

The report's recommendations to chief constables include a review of staffing levels, an end to the working culture of "long hours", an improvement in strategic planning and more support.