I've had time this morning to go through Reform's 'A New Force'. A well researched and written document, by authors who clearly know the ground well, it sets out some useful and business-like recommendations. However, exciting it isn't.
Back in 1960 when our last Royal Commission on policing convened, the telephone was the primary means of intra-force communication, with radio-cars still an innovation. A policeman's call for help was still with a whistle. There were no computer records, and manual files were bulky things filled with flimsy and semi-legible carbon copies. Photographs were few. Moving images rare as hen's teeth. The recommendations made by that Royal Commission, within the framework of the very limited communication and information sharing technology of the day, essentially gave us the force structure we still have today. Smaller forces were abolished and medium forces amalgamated; the 1960 RC decreed that a population of 250,000 was the minimum size for a police force.
One of Reform's most useful recommendations is to reverse this; they quote research that smaller operational units are more efficient and make more arrests and solve more crimes. They propose a new force structure that is far more locally focused, with force boundaries coterminous with the civic and municipal ones that ordinary people recognise. This is good.
They recommend greater local accountability and direction, with a more independent role both for Chief Constables and for police authorities, which is good. However, they don't go further which is a shame. One Chief officer is quoted as saying he's accountable to at least a dozen different authorities, including the Audit Commission and HMIC. Switching accountability from the Chief Constable to the police authority - with the CC solely accountable to the police authority - would strengthen the role of the PA and involve them more meaningfully in process as well as outcomes.
Recognising a local tier of policing under local control, and a national tier is good. They recommend the Met as leading in effect a national police force for serious and organised crime, terrorism and the like. I'm not sure about this. They cite police cultural resistance against 'outsiders' as a key reason why SOCA doesn't work, and this is the argument against a new, separate FBI-like national crime agency. This needs more thought.
The refining of the Home Office's responsibility away from operational policing, with its culture of central targets and budget 'rewards' is to be commended. But again, they could go further; if the police authority is to hold the purse-strings, then finance for local forces needs to be raised locally, and not distributed at the whim of the Home Secretary.
In general, the paper is a useful contribution to the debate, but I don't think it has all the answers. Nor do I think that reform can come without another Royal Commission.
Sometimes it's the little things, rather than grand strategy, that can have the most effect. Yesterday I stood waiting for a cab as two police women strolled by on patrol. They were deep in conversation and enjoying eachother's company. What they weren't doing was looking and watching the street, or being ready for a member of the public who wants to talk to catch their eye, or taking the initiative to start a chat with someone. They were in their own world, cocooned, walking aimlessly, waiting for an instruction to come through on their radio.
Requiring police officers to patrol in pairs may tick the risk assessment box, but it doesn't just halve the effectiveness of beat patrols, it destroys it.