The Daily Mail: Police Farce

Wednesday, 6 February, 2008

Up to six million police hours a year are being wasted on bureaucracy, says a damning review.

Officers are 'straitjacketed' by red tape and reduced to arresting the most minor of offenders to meet crime targets.

The withering verdict is passed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan in his bombshell review of the state of the police service.

His conclusions due to be published tomorrow but leaked to the Daily Mail last night- are an indictment of Labour's record on policing and insistence on targets. Sir Ronnie claims that three to six million police hours a year the equivalent of 3,000 frontline officers- are being squandered on bureaucracy.

Despite a string of promises and reforms since Labour's election in 1997, the former chief constable describes the police as so afraid of getting in trouble they are 'risk averse' and reluctant to use their initiative. Sir Ronnie paints a picture of a police service drowning in form-filling- which takes a fifth of officer time- regulations and 'perverse' Government targets.

He reveals one officer even charged someone who had built a snowman on a footpath with a public order offence because it helped meet goals imposed by Whitehall.

Sir Ronnie says: 'The 21st century police service is in danger of becoming a slave to doctrine and straitjacketed by process.' The 'needless drain of unnecessary bureaucracy' and the emphasis on targets had led to 'poor professional judgment' and the criminalising of people who had not committed any offence. Other findings include the fact that- despite five years of Labour promising change on bureaucracy- up to 70 per cent of information is entered into police computers more than once.

Forty one new pieces of doctrine have been introduced in the last two years alone. A staggering 500,000 hours of officer time are spent each year on internal audits.

Yet Sir Ronnie's recommendations stop well short of the Conservative blueprint unveiled over recent weeks and are likely to leave rankand-file officers dismayed.

The review was supposed to set down a blueprint for the future of the police service.

But the stop and search form- which takes 25 minutes to complete- will stay. Officers will simply be given hand-held computers to make it easier to input the details.

The Tories would replace the form with a simple call to the station. The proposals for replacing the stop form- which Mr Brown had indicated would be scrapped altogether- will also cause bemusement among police.

Sir Ronnie said they should hand over a ' business card' containing their details to anybody who they question about their movements- enabling them to later ring to complain. There is also no reference in the 106-page document to giving police more powers to stop a person if there is no suggestion of wrongdoing. Last week, Downing Street spin doctors were suggesting this would be the case.

Plans for a bonfire of red-tape by moving to a single set of forms across the country have also been shelved.

Tory police spokesman David Ruffley said of the leak: 'This review simply does not go far enough in cutting red tape and risk aversion in the police force. It does not follow our pledge to abolish the 40 question stop and search form and allow officers to radio in the basic details of a search which will be digitally recorded.

'After five Labour red tape reviews in ten years, this lags way behind already announced Conservative plans for tougher law and order.'

Sir Ronnie wants targets which give police a 'perverse incentive' to catch minor rather than serious criminals to be ditched. The rules, which rank solving a murder in the same way as fining a litter bug, have been blamed for police targeting normally law-abiding citizens. As well as the snowman case, Sir Ronnie highlighted a child prosecuted for chalking on pavements.

Some of these offences should no longer be classed as 'notifiable', he says, which means police will not be rewarded for solving them. He also warns the police must be less 'risk averse', a process which would require the Government to accept mistakes will occasionally be made.