Chief constables could resign if a Tory government presses ahead with plans to put police forces under the control of directly-elected local commissioners, the senior officers' leader warned today.
Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said that chief constables would resist any moves to introduce "political influence" into the police service.
In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said it was "absolutely critical" that they were operationally independent in terms of how they delivered policing in their areas.
The Conservatives are committed to directly-elected commissioners with wide powers to hire and fire chief constables and to set budgets and policing priorities in England and Wales.
Sir Hugh, the former Northern Ireland chief constable who took over as Acpo president earlier this year, insisted that there should be no perception of political influence in policing.
"Operation independence is absolutely critical," he said.
"Even the perception that the police service of this country - a British style of policing which is so important - is under any political influence, I think that suggests you cannot argue that you are a proper democratic society. It's as simple and as stark as that.
"We should not be influenced by anyone who has any potential or suggestion for a political basis."
Sir Hugh suggested that some chief officers would resign rather than accept the Conservative plans.
"I would not be surprised to see chief officers not want to be part of a system where they can be told how to deliver policing," he said.
Asked if he would quit, he said: "I don't, sadly, have a police service anymore. But if I was a chief officer and was subject to direct political control, I absolutely would."
Sir Hugh's intervention comes in the wake of the resignation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair after he came under pressure from London Mayor Boris Johnson to quit.
While he insisted that chief constables fully understood the need to be held accountable, he warned that direct local political control would distort policing priorities.
"If one just thinks about that for a moment, the agenda is local policing," Sir Hugh said.
"There will be no votes in protecting people from terrorism, from organised crime and from serial rapists that cross the country because they won't be local and they won't get you votes.
"That's part of the reason why the sensible debate around accountability and around force structure is missing currently."
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