Elected commissioners to shake up policing

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The Independent Online

Locally-elected police and crime commissioners will help change the face of policing in the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.

The watchdogs, who will also set forces' budgets and have a duty to ensure they provide value for money, will aim to improve accountability and "re-establish the links between the police and the public".



The controversial new posts are part of a shake-up of police structures which will also see a new US-style National Crime Agency set up to tackle organised crime and protect the UK's borders.



Mrs May said the proposals aim to transfer power back to the people, with the introduction in May 2012 of police and crime commissioners responsible for hiring and firing chief constables as well as setting out the force's budget and strategic plan.



The Home Secretary faces serious concerns over how chief constables will be able to retain operational independence over their force in the new set-up, but insisted it would be possible.



The commissioners will be responsible for reflecting what local people want, Mrs May said.



New police and crime panels will also be introduced in a "robust overview role".



Mrs May denied the panels would simply amount to the current police authorities but with an elected chairman, saying the panels will be part of a "range of checks and balances" put in place.



The proposals - Policing In The 21st Century: Reconnecting Police And The People - mark a "radical new programme of reform to change the face of policing here in the UK", Mrs May said.



"What we want to do is to re-establish the links between the police and the public," she said.



"Over time, police have become too disconnected from the people they are there to serve.



"We will also be strengthening our ability to tackle organised crime and to deal with the protection of our borders."



Mrs May outlined plans for a new National Crime Agency to come into force from 2013, replacing the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which was heralded as "Britain's FBI" when it was launched by Labour in 2006.



Last year the influential Commons Home Affairs Select Committee accused Soca of lacking transparency and accountability.



The cross-party group of MPs pointed to figures that showed only £1 was seized from organised crime gangs for every £15 in Soca's budget.



The agency recovered £78 million from crime bosses during its first three years, but cost taxpayers £1.2 billion.



The proposals set out in today's consultation paper involve boosting local people's involvement with policing, raising the prospect of members of the public taking part in joint patrols with the police, and boosting the number of special constables back to their peak of 67,000 in the 1950s, compared with around 15,000 today.

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