Throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, police forces were very much local institutions under the control of local bodies. The borough forces were under tight local democratic control, but the newly-formed county forces that caught up with them were less so.
The Home Office has long yearned for direct control over the nation's police forces; it failed to get the borough forces in the 1850s (strongly locally resisted), got a greedier taste for more control from wartime emergency powers, and tried from 1919 to 1964 by a variety of methods (using variously 'efficiency', 'economy' and 'national security' as unsuccessful excuses) to do so. The 1960 Royal Commission was steered by the Home Office to reflect a centralist outcome, and the 1964 Police Act was the result. Strong local borough control was abolished, and weak structures based on the old county models of governance were instituted, mostly with a Police Authority left in place with some residual functions including the appointment of senior officers.
The Home Secretary is now preparing to seize even those limited functions left to local police authorities. Not only is she not 'minded' to explore greater democratic control, she is proposing to give herself powers to act with ACPO to determine all police appointments above Chief Superintendant rank in all police forces. As a sop she is inviting the Association of Police Authorities to send a representative to sit on her appointments panel, but there is no doubt she is effectively neutering the sole remaining power of individual police authorities.
The amendments are contained in s.2 of the Policing and Crime Bill.
As always with Liebour, this is being spun as 'increasing public accountability'; in a risible and cynical insult to police authorities that will now be bereft of their sole remaining power, they will be required to take into account the views on policing of local people - which will be 'more, please' - to continue to raise even higher taxes locally to pay for the Home Office's police forces.
It's a good con, isn't it? The Home Office sets targets for operational police activity that means they don't have the resources to meet the public's expectations by attending burglaries and the like, the public's demands translate into 'more police, please' and local working people pay more for even more police activity directed by the Home Office that doesn't meet the public's expectations ....
Time is long overdue for a new Royal Commission on policing; many serving police officers are now also calling for this. The terms of reference must not make the mistake as in 1960 of placing the Commission under a rigid Home Office agenda.
We are sleepwalking towards a national police force under central State control. The whole political class and a dangerously Statist civil service are manipulating us towards this outcome - one I'm sure the English people don't want.
Please add your voices to the call for a Royal Commission on policing.