Sir Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has accused the three main parties of "political machismo" for their focus on police numbers, saying this fails to properly address the real issues in British policing.
In an interview with The Independent, Sir Ian criticised all three manifestos, saying they suffered from a "lack of good ideas". He also specifically attacked Conservative proposals to introduce directly elected police commissioners. "I have never met anyone in favour of this idea, apart from one or two politicians," he said.
In a move which will surprise critics who labelled him New Labour's favourite cop, Sir Ian also criticised elements of the Government's record on crime, saying that ministers became "managerialist" and set "too many targets". Sir Ian, who is now co-director of a Cambridge University training programme for senior police executives in India, said: "The thing that has struck me when reading the manifestos is that there are not that many good ideas about crime.
"I think there are things missing, maybe because they are too complicated for manifestos, but there is nothing in any manifesto about terrorism, cyber crime or identity theft.
"All parties are right that the democratic engagement around the police is no longer fit for purpose and all parties are right that members of the public want to see more police officers, but my concern is that those two arguments, by themselves, are not enough in terms of how to modernise the service," Sir Ian said.
Talking about Liberal Democrat proposals to put an extra 3,000 officers on the street, he said: "Of course if you put more feet on the ground then crime will fall. But in the nine years I was Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of the Met, my officer numbers went up by 7,000, so I do not see how an extra 3,000 officers nationally is the cure.
"Police officer numbers have become a piece of political machismo. It is like judging the NHS on how many nurses there are and no one does that."
Sir Ian says that the solution is to "civilianise" certain office-based roles within the force, which will allow more officers on to the street.
"What would be interesting is if we guaranteed people that they would see more police officers on the street, but at the same time told them that overall numbers would fall.
"You have got about 130,000 officers in the UK and something like 50,000 support staff; what we need to do is change that balance and make sure that police officers are only doing jobs which require police experience.
"The public, I think, would accept that, because ... all they care about is how many officers they see and how quickly they turn up.
"The looming financial situation means that the idea more bobbies on the beat is the solution to policing is going to be difficult to maintain, because it is expensive and because the cost of policing has to be reduced."
In 2008 Sir Ian became the first Scotland Yard Commissioner to be forced to step down by a politician when London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, said he no longer had faith in him. His departure brought the issue of directly elected police commissioners, a Tory policy, into sharp focus.
Sir Ian said: "I am not opposing it on political grounds, I am opposing it because I think it is a really inappropriate idea. It would endanger the jewel in the crown of British policing, which is operational independence."
Sir Ian added that he would welcome a debate about the future of police accountability, but was not comfortable with the Tory proposal to introduce it immediately.
"If, after a long national debate, that was the solution everyone came to ... but just to impose that idea, I find extraordinary," he said.
Sir Ian also echoed the views of Acpo president Sir Hugh Orde, who has called for a root and branch reform of the police service.
He said: "Politicians in the run-up to an election are likely to have a short-term view. For them it is about winning the election and it is possible that they will listen to other voices later."Reuse content