Thursday, 7 August, 2008

POLICE officers are being forced to spend up to half their working day on paperwork rather than patrolling the streets, it was revealed yesterday.

Despite Government claims about reducing bureaucracy, Home Office figures showed that a tide of socalled 'incident-related paperwork' is keeping officers off the beat.

The term refers largely to forms relating to arrests or interventions such as stop-and-search.

According to figures released in response to a Parliamentary question by Tory police spokesman David Ruffley, such paperwork now accounts for 36 per cent of officers' working time on average.

But in some parts of the country, they are spending almost half their time filling in forms.

The statistics cover all 43 forces across England and Wales since records began in 2003/04.

Worst was Cleveland Police in Middlesborough, where frontline duties in 2006/07 accounted for just

56.1 per cent of officers' time - down from 58.5 per cent in 2003/04.

Next was Durham Police, whose officers spent only 57.8 per cent of their time tackling crime in 2006/07 - down from 59.5 per cent in 2005/06 and 60.7 per cent in 2003/04.

And third worst was Avon and Somerset Police, which admitted spending only 58 per cent its time on the beat - down from 63 per cent on the previous 12 months, and 59 per cent the year before that.

The real picture may be bleaker still, since the figures do not including activities such as operational planning, crime prevention and call handling.

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'Even using this dubious Government measure of the use of police time, Labour's redtape means officers are spending a pitiful amount of time on the beat.

'Only the Conservatives have proposed truly radical proposals to free up our police so they can spend more time on the beat, including abolishing the stop form and replacing the 'stop and search' form with electronic recording of data.

'We have also announced that we would scrap or consolidate the wide range of inspection and review bodies.'

A spokesman for the Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, said: 'These statistics highlight the perils of paperwork and what the Police Federation has been saying for years.'

He said much of the form filling was 'unnecessary and prevents officers from doing their job of policing the streets protecting the public'.

'Government-imposed national targets have stripped officers of their discretion and forced them to chase targets instead of criminals.'

The Government's latest proposals on policing says that 80 per cent of a neighbourhood police team's time should be spent 'on duty...on your patch'. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is promising another review of the complicated forms which keep police off the beat.

Currently, officers must spend more than 13 hours filling in forms if they want to track a serial burglar planning a raid. They also face a maze of red tape to do something as simple as walking past the home of a suspected drug dealer to check for expensive cars.

A Home Office spokesman said: 'Proposals in the recent Policing Green Paper will cut red tape and top- down targets, freeing the police to focus on the most serious crime and on local issues.

'An extra £25million will also be invested in new technology and IT systems to help save time and reduce the need for officers to return to the station to fill out paperwork.'

The spokesman added that an independent bureaucracy czar - Jan Berry, the former chairman of the Police Federation - has been appointed to drive further cuts in red tape and free up extra police hours.