The Dail Mail: Thousands Of Police 'Facing The Axe'

Friday, 8 February, 2008



Fewer police should be deployed in the fight against crime, an official report said yesterday.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan claimed that having 141,000 officers is neither necessary nor financially 'sustainable'.

Many of the tasks these 'standing armies' perform - including manning the police station front desk to help distressed crime victims - could be handed to civilian staff instead, he argued.

He refused to speculate how many officers could be lost, adding that more work needs to be done on what the basic minimum would be. But the figure is likely to run into thousands.

Rural forces are likely to lose the greatest number of officers, Sir Ronnie's 124-page review on the future of policing in England and Wales suggests.

He wants the Government to rip up a funding formula which has protected the budget given to counties with less crime - the key factor in setting budgets.

The mostly rural forces would see their budgets slashed, with the money being transferred direct to the Labour heartlands.

Last night, police reacted with fury to the plan to reduce officer numbers in favour of civilian staff. Other tasks police will be expected to give up include taking witness statements. Police Federation chairman Jan Berry said: 'You de-skill the police service and it produces a totally different police service - one that is only going to be dealing with confrontational situations, like a paramilitary force.

'That's not the police service which traditionally this country has had and we have got to be very careful before we fall into that type of police service.'

Ian Johnston, president of the Police Superintendents Association, said: 'We've gone through three or four different " civilianisation" programmes and, quite frankly, some forces are saying we can't civilianise anything else.

'If we are not very careful, we will have people specialising in delivering all different bits of policing and we might not actually have the numbers of uniformed officers we need in times of incidents or national disasters.'

The Conservatives said the dividing line between them and the Labour government - which endorsed Sir Ronnie's report yesterday - is now clear.

Shadow Police Minister David Ruffley said: 'Labour now see slashing red tape solely as a means to cut police officer numbers.

'But the Conservatives will cut red tape in order to put more officers on our streets.'

Sir Ronnie's report, which was leaked in draft form to the Daily Mail earlier this week, promised a bonfire of red tape, as well as new technology such as cameras attached to officers' uniforms and hand-held computers.

If levels of red tape were stripped back, it could release up to seven million hours of police time every year - the equivalent of 3,500 officers, Sir Ronnie said. In the draft, he said six million hours were being wasted on needless bureaucracy. But the most controversial part of the report is the proposal to cut police numbers, which will alarm law-abiding members of the public who believe they rarely see an officer on the street.

Sir Ronnie's report said: 'There is widespread recognition amongst the leadership of the service that maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years.

'I am persuaded that we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level.' The former Royal Ulster Constabulary chief later added: 'I don't think that throwing numbers at the police is the answer.'

Only ten per cent of policing tasks require fully-trained officers, officials argue.

While Sir Ronnie refused to be drawn on numbers, past estimates have indicated the absolute minimum number of officers needed is between 130,000 and 135,000.

He said: 'The number of officers we need is a careful balance between the risks we face, and ensuring that we don't simply have officers forming large standing armies for the majority of the time, deployed only if there is a major incident of some kind.' Other proposals include a simplification to the way 80 per cent of crimes are recorded.

Serious crimes would continue to be recorded in great detail, but less serious offences would be noted down in a 'much more concise way', said Sir Ronnie.

There were several changes to the leaked draft, the Tories said. It did not include leaked references to 'top down management', 'declining public confidence' or over-centralised government being 'part of the problem'.

A graph was changed to present a more positive picture of the public'sperceptions of crime. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: 'We are determined to cut unnecessary red tape and free up police officers to focus on protecting their communities and dealing with the issues that matter most to communities.

'I have formally asked Sir Ronnie to report back to me in six months on how we and the police are reducing bureaucracy.

'For our part, in addition to the measures outlined to day, the Government will be publishing a Green Paper in the spring to further improve policing for the future.'



SEVEN million hours are being wasted by the police on needless red tape, the report said. Sir Ronnie Flanagan said slashing the bureaucracy would allow 2,500 to 3,500 officers to refocus on frontline work.

The way less serious crimes are recorded will change, with less information about victims stored by the police. This will apply to the 80 per cent of offences classed by Sir Ronnie as 'less serious'.

Whitehall targets will also be changed, reducing the incentive for police to chase people guilty of minor misdemeanours.

In order to reduce red tape, offers are to be equipped with hand-held computers. These will allow information to be quickly downloaded on to computers back at the police station, rather than being inputted by hand.

This would also tackle the problem that 70 per cent of information was entered on to police systems more than once, he said.


The stop form - which takes seven minutes to complete whenever police ask a person to account for their movements- will be scrapped.

Officers will instead have to hand a receipt, or business card, to anybody they ask to account for their movements.

If successful, Sir Ronnie said, this could be extended to the stop and search form, which takes up to 25 minutes to complete.

The stop form was introduced in the wake of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

The axing of the stop form was criticised by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

He said: 'We don't live in some post-racial melting pot where these powers are used fairly.

'Today black people are still seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.'