Leading Article: Change of beat for the police

Share
Related Topics
THE WHITE PAPER on the reform of Britain's police forces, released by the Home Office yesterday, shows what happens when ministers are reshuffled too often. The preparatory work for it was done over many months stretching back into last year, under the stewardship of Kenneth Clarke; but it fell to Michael Howard, his successor as Home Secretary, to make a few changes to it and then present the paper to Parliament as if it were all his own. The result was a paper that was both good and new - yet the parts that were good were not new, and the parts that were new were not good. It is perhaps because so much of the Clarke version remains intact that the paper as a whole deserves a broad welcome.

Mr Clarke thought the police lacked clear objectives, and suffered too much interference when they tried to put their plans into effect. That interference came from the Home Office, which told Chief Constables how many beat officers they could employ and how wide the corridors of new police stations should be; and also from an archaic set of disciplinary rules dating back to the days of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that made it near- impossible to sack a policeman, no matter how incompetent.

Under the Clarke overhaul, new disciplinary procedures were to be put in place; the police were to be given more precise aims; and their performance was to be monitored more closely - even down to how quickly they responded to 999 calls and how many administered breath tests proved positive. Mr Howard has wisely carried forward much of this, and has endorsed Mr Clarke's wish to see more businesspeople on the police committees that link forces with the communities they serve.

In the 20 working days he has been at the Home Office, Mr Howard has had time to make only two important changes. One is to place more emphasis on public participation in the White Paper, and to try to encourage average people to consider the policing of their neighbourhoods as a job in which they can help the local bobby, rather than stand aside as mere spectators. This is as praiseworthy as motherhood and apple pie, but it has little to do with the more hard-headed matters of police management, discipline and financing that the White Paper addresses.

More seriously, earlier plans for an independent authority to oversee London's Metropolitan Police have been ditched and replaced with a committee empowered only to offer advice to the Home Secretary. Mr Howard gives two reasons for this: first, the fear that left- wing extremists from Labour councils would sour relations between police and public; and second, that the Met's remit covers not merely policing the capital, but also a number of broader national jobs in which he would wish to be involved. Among them are the prevention of terrorism and the protection of Parliament and the Royal Family.

Neither of these reasons is convincing. Police commissioners everywhere manage to muddle along with local councillors with whose politics they disagree; Paul Condon, the talented new Met commissioner, is confident that he could do so as well. As for those specialist divisions, there may be a case for spinning them off from the Metropolitan Police altogether, and treating what remains like any other British police force. But Mr Howard has no excuse to keep control of the capital's policing in his own hands.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I spent six years trying to recover from the bulimia I developed as a fifteen year old - with earlier intervention it all could have been avoided

Morwenna Jones
Suspicious minds: Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell star in 'True Detective'  

True Detective: Far from being gay, it’s remarkable just how many fictional LGBT characters are miserable

Chris Mandle
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy