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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Tories call for US-style police control
Police could be accountable to mayors under a Tory government

An American-style system of chief constables answerable to local politicians should be introduced in Britain, the Tories have suggested.

Accusing Home Secretary David Blunkett of "obsessively" taking central control of police, shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said a Conservative government would give direct control over policing to local politicians.

The suggestion follows the appointment of a US former police chief to head the Police Standards Unit, the department which aims to improve the performance of forces in England and Wales.


"The Home Office has got to let go because, sooner or later, the obsessive, centralising tendencies of the current regime will end in disaster," Mr Letwin told the Police Superintendents' Association conference.

"You can't steer a ship from the shore. And you can't police a neighbourhood from Whitehall."

He told 200 delegates in Newport, south Wales: "The next Conservative government will reverse the direction of policing policy.

"We will push power down from the politicians and bureaucrats, through the police force hierarchies and to the police officers on the front line against crime and disorder.

You can't steer a ship from the shore - and you can't police a neighbourhood from Whitehall
Oliver Letwin
Shadow home secretary

"Each of you will be accountable, not to me, but to the neighbourhoods in your care."

Mr Letwin's spokesman added that he envisaged chief constables being accountable to elected mayors or possibly to police authorities with publicly-elected members.

The Home Office would only be involved in policing "to a small extent", he said.

Mr Letwin said full details of his "dramatic" proposals would be unveiled at next month's Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

Mr Blunkett told a meeting of the 43 chief constables of England and Wales on Tuesday he wanted the next stage of reform to bring more local involvement in policing.

But the Tory proposals go beyond anything proposed by the government.

Grassroots boost

The ideas have a direct parallel with the American system in which police chiefs are appointed by an elected mayor, and where the federal government does not interfere in local policing matters.

Mr Letwin also pledged to give a boost to grassroots policing which he said had been "systematically disrespected and under-resourced".

"We will provide the necessary resources, by which I mean sufficient funding for an unprecedented increase in police numbers - that is an increase of 40,000 police officers.

"If every one of the 40,000 extra police officers is devoted to neighbourhood policing then that will, I believe, triple the number of police officers on the beat."

Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin
"Neighbourhood policing is something we need to get back to"

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