Chief Constable: Straw is wasting police time

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The Chief Constable of Britain's second biggest police force launched a controversial attack on the Home Secretary's approach to tackling crime yesterday.

The Chief Constable of Britain's second biggest police force launched a controversial attack on the Home Secretary's approach to tackling crime yesterday.

Edward Crew, 53, who heads the West Midlands force, said Home Office and Government inspectors waste police time by demanding unnecessary crime statistics.

He said that senior officers were now being forced to number crunch rather than catch criminals.

The comments came as Jack Straw announced that more detailed league tables of police performances are to be published next year.

"What concerns me is the bureaucracy. The amount of information being demanded by the Home Office and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is diverting resources away from the fight against crime. It's a real frustration," Mr Crew said. "I appreciate that the Home Office increasingly has to bid for resources but it's an enormous amount of work for us. They want detailed information about our strategies, numbers and resources in a short time. It's taking up a growing amount of time for my senior detectives. And I want my senior officers to spend more time with the junior ranks on the front line," he added.

Many police chiefs believe that the Government is obsessed with crime statistics.

In the West Midlands force nine members of staff are employed full time to process statistics for outside bodies, such as the Home Office and the Audit Commission. In addition almost all senior detectives have to compile crime figures.

Mr Crew claimed that officials at the Home Office and HMIC sometimes duplicated questions, which forced his staff to provide two sets of answers. And he argued that crime statistics on their own were a "waste of time" unless interpreted and acted upon.

Since Labour came into power there has been a rise in the publication of police league tables and performance indicators. But the Government believes that by comparing the performances of similar forces the quality of service and efficiency will be driven up.

Mr Crew also called yesterday for the break-up of three-quarters of the forces in England and Wales and the establishment of regional murder, riot and firearm squads. He suggested that the setting up of 10 "super forces" in place of the current 43 forces would result in huge savings in administrative costs. And regional police squads for public order, firearms, armed response, murder investigation and underwater search would also be more cost effective.

"This is not me arguing for greater central control. I believe in local policing. I think it's something the Government should seriously consider and I would speculate that within 10 years we will have a regional policing structure."

Warwickshire, West Midlands and Staffordshire forces are already considering joint recruitment, public order and firearms training.

But any attempts to merge police forces would be fiercely resisted by the police authorities and chief constables whose posts would be abolished.

Mr Crew argued that the present system of boundaries between forces had "no rhyme or reason". He made the comparison between Thames Valley, which covers Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire and has about 3,700 officers, and Warwickshire, which covers just one county but has 950 officers. In Scotland police forces are even smaller, with Dumfries and Galloway having only 430 officers.