Police chief defends use of civilian staff

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The head of Surrey Police mounted a strident defence today of his decision to employ more civilian staff than warranted officers.

Chief Constable Mark Rowley said he had been able to achieve "more for less" by building teams of staff around police constables.

He said the approach means officers can make the most of their skill, experience and powers and has delivered results.

The south of England force tested changing the mix of officers and staff in small areas before rolling it out across the board.

Senior officers also considered an independent report by consultants commissioned by the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA).

Mr Rowley, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) lead on "futures", highlighted some of its positive findings including increased working capacity, improved response rates and efficiencies.

But the final NPIA report showed mixed results, with Northamptonshire and Staffordshire unable to reach targets, and Surrey lowering its sights from improvement to maintaining performance at a lower cost.

It also questioned the sustainability of the changes, said their long-term value is unproven and questioned whether savings will outweigh the cost of changing practices.

Mr Rowley said: "We see the police constable as the professional expert around which successful policing teams are built and we have increased the use of support staff ensuring police officers make the most use of their high levels of skill, experience and powers.

"We have achieved more for less with this approach.

"Surrey Police's workforce is at one end of a spectrum in terms of the mix of police officers and staff.

"We got there because of a range of unusual local factors including a sudden growth after taking on a large area from the Metropolitan Police a decade ago, real term reductions in government funding for over a decade and having local budgets capped.

"With an increasing proportion of budget coming from local council tax payers we have ensured a strong focus on delivering value for money."

The NPIA report examined the impact of changing staff ratios, dubbed "workforce modernisation" in police jargon, in nine forces, including Surrey.

The other eight forces were: Avon and Somerset, Durham, the Met, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, Staffordshire, West Yorkshire and Wiltshire.

Mr Rowley said it was "inaccurate and misleading" for the Police Federation to claim no evaluation of the changes had taken place.

He added: "The most important issue for the police workforce is what it delivers to the public.

"In Surrey we have reduced serious crime by a fifth in the past two years and had one of the best inspections reports in the country.

"Most important is the view of the people of Surrey who rate our policing of anti-social behaviour where they live as the best in the country."