Straw angers police by dismissing red tape complaints

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Indy Politics

The Justice Secretary Jack Straw was severely criticised today after he said that desk-bound police officers who claim they are overworked actually prefer to stay in warm police stations rather than go out and catch criminals.

Mr Straw said he was "sceptical" about claims that police officers had excessive bureaucratic burdens placed on them. Instead he said that those who complain about the amount of time they spend doing paperwork are simply not working as fast or are not as motivated as their colleagues.

But the Justice Secretary's views have angered the Police Federation, the body which represents Britain's 140,000 front-line police officers. And they also provoked a stinging response from the Conservative Party.

Mr Straw's comments came during an interview with the crime writer PD James on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4.

He said: "With a given level of resources, some police forces and some parts of police forces do much better than others. It is the ones who are the less efficient and who have the wrong approach to the public who fall back on this argument that they are overworked.

"One police officer says it takes four hours to fill in the forms, whereas I can tell you that good police officers will take an hour to fill in the same forms because they want to get out and catch criminals.

"Some police officers – whatever they may say – actually enjoy staying in the police station in the warm. We are dealing with human beings, but we are also dealing with the kind of discipline and culture in the police service.

"It is very striking around this country that if you go to one police force it is up for it, getting crime down and really motoring, while the adjacent force, serving very similar communities, has not got it together. It is not about money, it is about leadership, organisation and culture."

Simon Reed, the vice-chair of the Police Federation, said that Mr Straw's remarks were "irresponsible and inflamatory". He added: "It was not not police officers who brought in 3,000 new laws. It wasn't police officers who brought in a 30-page prosecution file. And it wasn't police officers who brought in multiple forms and authorities to use a pair of binoculars. This was all done by politicians. Police officers are not the architects of bureaucracy, they and the public are the victims of it."

Mr Reed said that he had received messages of anger from officers around the country following the broadcast, adding: "New Year's Eve is probably our busiest night of the year and for police officers to hear that from a politician who will be in the warm while they are out dealing with violent and drunken indivuiduals will upset a lot of officers.

"I've had emails from various officers telling me how outraged they are. Many of them have mentioned the name of PC Bill Barker who died protecting the public during the floods in Cumbria. He did not stay inside in his warm office. It is fair to say that the mood of frontline officers upon hearing these comments is outrage. We are livid.”

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: "What we have now is a group of ministers who are utterly out of touch with what is really happening in policing. They heap more and more bureaucracy onto our police, leaving them filling in form after form, often with the same information on it, and then pretend that nothing is wrong."

"It is not police officers who are sitting at their desks in the warm – it is ministers stuck in their ivory towers. They should get out a bit more and find out what is really going on."