Control of police 'is becoming less democratic': Big decisions made by civil servants, policy group says

POLICE policy is becoming increasingly unaccountable to democratically elected groups, with most of the major decisions being made by Whitehall civil servants, according to an independent study published today.

It says local organisations such as police authorities and crime prevention panels have little or no influence over how their communities are policed. Research based on four police forces and senior officers found that the formal democratic institutions, including Parliament, have been largely bypassed and that most policy was being made by the Home Office and chief police officers.

The Policy Studies Institute, an influential independent research organisation, which published the report, said: 'The study highlights the nature and extent of centralisation of control over policing policy in Britain. In all cases, the important impetus came from officials rather than elected representatives.

'This suggests there is a widening gap in the structure of accountability. Policing policy is responsible to central rather than local bodies. Current arrangements do not make the Home Secretary answerable for the substantial powers which he has over policing.'

The report says police authorities, which should be involved in formulating policy, and local consultative committees often have little effect because they are not properly advised or because they represent groups which come into conflict with the police.

They are also accused of having too little awareness, knowledge or motivation. In addition, police authorities are criticised for 'adopting a very narrow view of their own role' and often being too large to cover detailed policy.

The study found that on crime prevention the police had failed to make major changes towards introducing effective policies. But victims of rape and child abuse now receive more sensitive consideration and support. The influence of women's groups had played an important part in this shift, says the report.

The report concludes: 'The formal democratic institutions that are supposed to frame policing - police authorities, consultative committees, Parliament - do not appear to have played an important role in the development of policy . . . their role is one that could and, arguably, should be enhanced.'

Democracy and Policing by Trevor Jones, Tim Newburn, and David Smith; Policy Studies Institute; pounds 24.95.

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