Efforts to reform the structure of policing must be ‘future proof’, according to a new report by the think-tank Demos. Published today, A Force for Change: Policing 2020 argues that the number of police forces in England and Wales should be reduced to twelve, and that police authorities should be abolished.
The report is based on interviews with over 150 senior police officers carried out over a two-year period. It argues that, instead of the incremental change being envisaged, the 43 forces should be scrapped and replaced with no more than a dozen regional forces.
“Police reform must be future proof,” says Charlie Edwards, one of the report’s authors. “There’s a real danger that we are rushing into incrementalism. If the Government is serious about police reform, it needs to avoid the temptation to settle for piecemeal changes now. The Government’s current proposals might give us a police force for 2007, but will the reforms produce a police force for the future?”
The report’s authors propose that police authorities should be abolished and replaced by more democratic forms of control, modelled on the management structures used for SureStart and Foundation Hospitals.
“Police authorities are an anachronism”, says Charlie Edwards. “They are the product of an unholy alliance between national governments and local forces trying to resist giving the police the local direction and accountability they need. They need to be replaced with proper local control which balances democratic accountability and operational independence.”
The report outlines four possible ‘scenarios’ for 2020 to focus the key policing challenges for the future. The four scenarios are:
- Fortress UK- Terror and other threats to national security remain at a high level, and the incoming government creates a ‘homeland security agency’ encompassing border control, immigration, customs, coast guard, disaster response, counter-terrorism and the security services. The focus of all police work is now exclusively on law enforcement and bringing offenders to justice. A single national ‘director of the police service’ is accountable to the ‘ministry of justice’.
- Metropolis policing- Britain joins the Euro and ratifies a radical new European Constitution. Serious threats from international terrorism, illegal migration and drug trafficking provide a further incentive for cooperation. More powers of direction, accountability and funding are granted to local communities through a new layer of city-region governance. City-region police forces are held to account by elected mayors who have the power to hire and fire chief constables.
- Policing plc- Following success in the education, health, transport and prison sectors, British and multinational companies enter the UK market providing ‘policing services’. Growing numbers of UK senior police officers are attracted to work for private companies by the competitive pay and conditions. With the growth of neighbourhood governance, local communities now have the power to choose from a range of providers of neighbourhood foot and car patrols, including local community groups and small businesses.
- Policing in partnership– A series of high-profile threats related to terrorism, migration and public health produce a renewed demand from the public that the police help to protect them from the local consequences of global insecurity. Partnership structures put in place to encourage ‘joint working’ between police forces, local authorities and other agencies evolve into formally integrated services, with merged decision-making, coterminous boundaries, pooled budgets and common accountability structures. The police provide a one-stop mobile shop for a wide range of local services ranging from addiction and mental health services to education and employment opportunities.
- A Force for Change: Policing 2020 by Charlie Edwards and Paul Skidmore, is published by Demos on 7th April 2006. Copies can be downloaded for free from www.demos.co.uk/publications/aforceforchange
- Charlie Edwards is a researcher at Demos. Paul Skidmore was a senior researcher at Demos.
- Demos is the think tank for everyday democracy. It has well-established programmes of work on security and public service reform.