Mr Clarke told the Police Superintendents' Association that while every effort should be made to bring poor officers up to standard, those who failed to make the grade would have to go.
Mr Clarke made it clear to the delegates - representing 2,000 superintendents and chief superintendents - that he was warning them the weeding out of such officers had to be more effective. It was the job of supervisors to identify poor officers at an early stage, work on improving their performance and if necessary dismiss them, as a routine part of management. This should not be done as an annual stock-taking exercise or when things had reached the point where formal procedures had to be introduced.
He said there was 'still a quite understandable reluctance to deal with one's colleagues' shortcomings using procedures which could at the end of the day mean that they lose their jobs. But this nettle has to be grasped. It is quite simply not fair either to other police officers or to the public they serve to put them at risk by failing to deal with poor performance.'
The idea of dismissing officers who were inefficient but who had not committed any disciplinary offence has gained ground following recent public disquiet about the police; Mr Clarke has already spoken of diminishing confidence among the middle classes faced with insensitive policing.
The Police Federation, which represents the lower ranking officers most affected, has fought the idea, arguing that existing procedures are sufficient. But the Home Office has introduced Civil Service-style staff appraisal as a first step. A working party on the mechanics of dismissing inefficient officers is to report shortly.
Chief Superintendent Peter Wall, national secretary of the association, welcomed Mr Clarke's comments but warned that the procedures being devised could run into practical problems. It might be necessary for legislation allowing officers the right to make industrial tribunal claims, currently only available in race or sex discrimination cases.
Mr Clarke also signalled to the conference that he was seriously examining the possibility of major changes in police funding and force boundaries. Officials were studying alternative ways of paying for the police service, which is currently being funded by central government for almost 90 per cent of its costs, although about half is channelled through local police authorities. The Audit Commission has criticised the system for imposing a financial straitjacket on police authorities and forces and has argued for greater flexibility to be given at a local level.
Mr Clarke said he had an open mind about the future of the service but that the time was right to look at the pattern of forces. Although he was committed to local involvement in policing he was not convinced that the current system of police authorities was entirely the best method.
Home Office sources said afterwards that proposals to change funding could be issued before Christmas and that any restructuring initiatives could follow but were dependent on the outcome of local government reorganisation. It is known that one idea being seriously considered is the creation of larger, more regional police forces, achieving economies of scale and supervised by local authority joint boards. Local policing would be carried out by 'basic command units' linked to city, town or suburban boundaries. The idea of a national police force is not on the agenda.
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