Critics argued last night that an 800-strong body surrounded by the 27,000-strong Metropolitan Police was an anachronism at a time of pressure for effective use of resources and the threat of terrorism.
'Apart from the force itself, I cannot think of many police officers who believe it should retain separate identity,' Brian Hilliard, editor of Police Review, an independent weekly magazine, said. 'It is a complete anachronism. It is surely wrong that the Anti-Terrorist Branch and Special Branch have to seek permission to operate in the City.'
Derek Sawyer, leader of Islington Council and policing spokesman for the Association of London Authorities, said: 'It has been an anomaly for a very long time. Eventually it will have to go.'
The planned re-organisation of the Metropolitan Police into self- governing areas, borough-level budgetary control and the establishment of a police authority has created the ideal opportunity for merger. High-ranking Metropolitan Police officers take the view that the City could be easily absorbed. Asked how it would be run, one said: 'We can send in a sergeant.'
Barry Irving, director of the Police Foundation, said that, despite the arguments for ending its isolation, 'asking the City to merge with the Met is a bit like asking the Swiss Guard at the Vatican to join the Carabinieri of Rome. Of all the small forces threatened, the City is the safest because of special interests protecting it.'
Merger is an idea the Corporation of London, which acts as its police authority, firmly rejects. 'The City is a particular community with particular needs and the force has developed special expertise to deal with those. To abolish it would not make sense,' a spokesman said.
Founded in 1839, the City has a budget of more than pounds 50m for a force 849 strong, increased from 798 since the Baltic Exchange bomb. It polices a population of under 5,000 at night, rising to more than 300,000 during the day. General crime levels are low.
Much criticism stems from the idea that it is the private force of the Corporation, which is largely funded by the business community; it could put the Home Office under pressure to match any increase in resources it chose to give the force.
The force is acknowleged as being financially and operationally efficient and has the leading fraud department in the country.