Policing levels 'unsustainable'

The current number of police officers in England and Wales is unsustainable and will have to fall, an official report said today.

The Home Office's adviser on policing, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said it was not necessary to have 140,000 officers, adding that many jobs could be done by civilians instead.

His report, which was extensively leaked earlier this week, also proposed a number of changes to police bureaucracy.

If levels of red tape were stripped back it could release up to seven million hours of police time every year, the equivalent of 3,500 officers, Sir Ronnie said.

"There is widespread recognition amongst the leadership of the service that maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years," the report said.

"I am persuaded that we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level."

Launching his review at the Home Office today, Sir Ronnie said: "I don't think that throwing numbers at the police is the answer."

As expected, he proposed scrapping a controversial form which officers have to fill in every time they stop someone in the street.

The so-called "stop and account" form can take an officer up to half an hour to complete, and was introduced in the wake of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Today's final report also suggested that if pilot schemes were successful in scrapping the stop and account paperwork, it could later be expanded to incidents when police search members of the public as well.

Sir Ronnie recommended that new, two-tier crime recording systems should be introduced.

Serious crimes would continue to be recorded in great detail but less serious offences would be noted down in a "much more concise way", he said.

Sir Ronnie, the former Northern Ireland chief constable, said too much time was being spent recording unnecessary detail about some crimes.

The two-tier move could save about 40,000 hours of police time a year in just one medium sized police force, he indicated.

Today's report also recommended radical changes to the way police forces in England and Wales are funded, which could dramatically alter the amount of cash some areas of the country receive for crime fighting.

Sir Ronnie said various floors and ceilings should be removed from the funding formulas so that police forces receive money according to the demands placed on them, such as crime levels.

The document said chief constables should become more "entrepreneurial" so that they generate income for their forces.

It said that senior police officers and senior force managers should try to create "business opportunities".

It gave the example that forces could offer driving courses to the public, making use of their experienced motoring instructors at less busy times.

Police could also offer IT training, it added.

Two forces - North Wales and Kent - have already made progress in developing these money-raising schemes, the report said.

A programme of merging police forces from the existing 42 in England and Wales to as few as 12 was abandoned by former home secretary John Reid.

But the new document said the Home Office should do everything possible to allow voluntary mergers to take place, such as allowing forces which wanted to join together to equalise their precept on the council tax.