Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said the service would be reshaped from eight into possibly five areas and more than 700 officers transferred from headquarters into divisions. The senior officers of the new, larger areas will be called chief constables, instead of deputy assistant commissioners.
The new title will invest the incumbents with an authority that their current positions lack, putting them on a level with chief constables of provincial forces. However, Mr Condon made it clear that he will still head the Metropolitan Police.
The 700 officers, out of a force of 27,000, will be moved to local divisions from both Scotland Yard itself and area headquarters by next April. Some of these may include displaced officers from the Special Branch, which is said to be under review following the ending of the Cold War.
Mr Condon said the service would also be looking at the divisional structure and seeking to create fewer, larger units. He said that rather than wait for the result of the Sheehy inquiry into policing, he wanted to press ahead with 'our own clear ideas'.
The moves were anticipated. They are in line with Mr Condon's policy when Chief Constable of Kent, the trend in the Metropolitan Police begun by Sir Kenneth Newman and the wishes of Kenn eth Clarke, the Home Secretary.
But last night there was a sense that the commissioner had moved earlier than anticipated. When he took over in February, he indicated a longer time scale.
Mr Condon may have been pressed into action by Mr Clarke. Last week, following the Independent's disclosures of falling detection rates, Mr Clarke said he had asked the Metropolitan Police for a report on its declining arrest rate. Despite steadily rising crime, arrests fell by 12 per cent during 1992; the number of investigations leading to charges or cautions dropped from 14 to 12 per cent of the total of recorded crime. The report concluded that the Yard's resources are stretched to the maximum and the decline is largely due to additional legislation, bureaucracy and new rules on evidence-gathering taking up the time of investigating officers.
The announcement follows a two-day meeting with senior officers held last week. Senior officers in charge of specialist squads in the Yard fought against the scale of the changes, but Mr Condon's view prevailed.
Derek Sawyer, chair of the police committee of the Association of London Authorities, said this week that the capital was facing a 'law-and-order crisis' and called on Mr Condon to shift resources from policing soft drugs, petty fraud and prostitution to burglary, street robbery and sexual assaults.