Police league tables put Blunkett on new collision course

Home Secretary advocates reforms reflecting US approach to policing where officers and judiciary have high profile
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The Independent Online

Detailed local league tables of police performance - including days off through sickness and levels of public confidence - could be published as part of a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, also raised the prospect of elected police boards and boosting the profile of public prosecutors to make them as well-known as American district attorneys.

The proposals, which are likely to be included in the next Labour election manifesto, are intended to increase confidence in the police and courts by making them more accountable and accessible to the public.

Mr Blunkett is backing the idea of providing local crime and performance information for every police division - or basic command unit (BCU) - of each police force.

They already exist for crime rates, but Mr Blunkett wants to extend the idea much wider to provide a detailed picture of police performance in each town or city. Information could be included on absentee rates, the view of residents on the effectiveness of their force, the size of its budget and the work it does on public safety. The information would also be made more available, possibly via the internet, and more digestible than current formats for showing police performances.

BCUs would have more power devolved to them and would be required to produce annual plans and reports, with partly or fully elected "police boards" overseeing them. In a further move to strengthen local accountability, their leaders would be required to become more visible.

Mr Blunkett, speaking in London last night, signalled his interest in US-style "community justice centres", which could impose punishments designed to fit the impact of each crime on the community. For example, vandals could be ordered to paint over graffiti.

He has backed the principle since visiting a "community court" in Red Hook, New York, two months ago. But Home Office officials stressed that the controversial US practice of including teenagers on panels sitting in judgment on other youngsters would not be repeated in Britain. Reforms of the court system could include raising the profile of the Crown Prosecution Service, perhaps by changing its name to Public Prosecution Service.

Mr Blunkett said the Government was also studying ways of "boosting the profile and widening the role of local senior prosecutors, so that they command the sort of standing they do in the US".

With Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, preparing to renew his attack on Mr Blunkett's reforms in the Lords next week, the Home Secretary's call for a shake-up of the system threatens to put him in new conflict with the judiciary.

Mr Blunkett said yesterday research by the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities showed the public had little understanding of how police were held accountable.

"I do not want to single out police here - many other public services face the same challenges in engaging the public. But given the police's vital civic role, I believe it is deeply concerning that people do not understand the accountability arrangements and do not feel they can influence how the police are run.

"It is difficult to engage and reassure people if they do not know who they are being policed by and how to have their say. I am interested in exploring options for strengthening local accountability."

But Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: "We are accountable to more public bodies than you have got fingers on both hands. The police service generally are responsible for all their acts and omissions in law and are held to account by the judiciary."