Police reforms will allow recruits to join force at senior level

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The Independent Online

Police recruits will be able to join the force at any level, rather than having to work their way up from pounding the beat as a constable under a package of reforms announced yesterday by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

Police recruits will be able to join the force at any level, rather than having to work their way up from pounding the beat as a constable under a package of reforms announced yesterday by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett was launching a Home Office White Paper, Building Communities, Fighting Crime, aimed at delivering a new-look force for the 21st century - a vision largely built around community-style policing harking back to the days of the "bobby on the beat".

Neighbourhood policing teams, already in use in areas such as London and Merseyside, will be introduced across the nation.

The public will be able to contact their local beat police officers by mobile phone or e-mail and a new three-digit non-emergency police number will be introduced to improve communication between officers and local communities.

The most successful police forces could also be given more money under the reforms.

However, with the Government admitting that only 19 per cent of crimes are solved, the package was dismissed by the shadow Home Secretary, David Davies as "little more than a tax-payer-funded PR exercise".

Mr Blunkett's proposed recruitment shake-up will mark an end to the traditional system under which officers are required to undergo 12 weeks' training followed by two years on the beat. It is envisaged that probation, Customs and Army officers, or even managers of large shops, could join the force at a more senior rank.

There will be a particular effort to encourage blacks and Asians "with successful careers in other professions" to apply for senior posts. Recruitment will also focus on hiring officers with foreign languages.

There will also be a drive to attract women, who make up one in five of all officers, with "family-friendly, flexible working patterns". Rules specifying the number of years an officer must serve in each rank would also be scrapped.

Mr Blunkett hopes to turn back the clock to the days of his youth, when local residents were on first-name terms with their beat constables. He said yesterday: "I want to bring back the best of old-fashioned policing."

Police teams will be required to hold regular meetings with local groups to agree priorities for their areas and councillors could also be granted "trigger powers" to force officers take action on specific problems.

The White Paper also sets out a 10-point "customer commitment charter", the so-called Coppers' Contract, setting out residents' rights. One promises: "Officers will work to make people feel safer in their homes and neighbourhoods." Other proposals include devising a single grading system for forces, with those rated "excellent" in line for more Government cash to develop innovative projects.

The Home Secretary's powers to suspend or sack chief constables will also be reviewed. Referring to this year's battle with Humberside Police Authority over the future of the chief constable, David Westwood, the White Paper said: "Recent events involving the existing law have demonstrated the need for this process to be as simple and straightforward as possible."

But his opposite number, Mr Davies, was scathing about the package, which he dismissed as "the latest in a long line of initiatives on police reform under this Home Secretary alone".

He said: "We are going to end up with a reform, of a reform, of a reform. Our police forces are already buried under Home Office initiatives."

Although he welcomed the plans, Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, cautioned that "it would be wrong to raise expectations that this is all going to happen by next month".

But the Police Superintendents' Association said the proposals offered "nothing radical from a government that had promised to radically reform public services".

THE PROPOSALS

* Police recruits able to join at all ranks

* Effort to attract ethnic minorities and women

* High-fliers to progress more quickly

* Policing team for every neighbourhood

* Communities to have power to demand information from police

* Ten-point customers' charter for every force

* Residents to be given officers' contact details

* Local councillors able to "trigger" action by police

* Forces graded excellent could get more cash

* Community support officers to get detention powers if chief constables agree

* New phone number for non-emergency calls

* Home Secretary's powers to suspend or sack chief constables to be reviewed

* Review of police authorities; magistrates will no longer play such a central role

* Report in January on possible merger of English and Welsh forces