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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 17:32 GMT
Public 'to influence local policing'
People have very little knowledge about police authorities
Police forces in England and Wales will become more accountable to the communities they serve, under plans outlined by the home secretary.

The proposals include giving the public a greater say in local policing, and changing police authorities so they are wholly or partially directly elected rather than appointed.

David Blunkett suggested the creation of "community advocates" to help people deal with crime and the police, and argue for the policing they want.

The proposals, contained in a consultation paper, come after government research showed people had a lack of knowledge about what police authorities do.

I am mindful of the dangers of rabble-rousers or racists becoming elected
David Blunkett

The paper also suggested creating more "lead" forces to specialise in investigating crimes such as murder, complex fraud and internet paedophilia.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Association of Police Authorities in Manchester, Mr Blunkett said: "I want members of the public to know who their local police commander is and to be able to get answers to basic questions when things are not up to scratch".

He said he knew problems could be caused by electing chief constables and those with power must be accountable.

"I am mindful of the dangers of rabble-rousers or racists becoming elected", he said.

Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), warned: "People who are directly elected tend to focus on their own area."

And Ruth Henig, a Labour councillor who chairs the Association of Police Authorities, said she doubted whether Mr Blunkett's proposals were the best way to increase accountability.

If this generates a better community spirit, a pride in your local town and so encourages people to help the police then it will be good thing
Kath M, UK

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The issue for me is 'would directly electing police authority members be the key to enhancing local accountability?' I don't think it would."

"The sort of areas we are involved in, such as financial management, performance management, the use of resources.

"These are not really very sexy issues for election campaigns."

The consultation paper also raised again the issue of merging some of the smaller police forces including a suggestion the existing set-up of 43 forces was out of date.

Policing minister Hazel Blears said: "Very often it's local people out on the street who know what the issues are.

It is about giving the public a stronger voice
Home Office spokeswoman

"They're an excellent source of intelligence for the police. They can be your eyes and ears.

"And I think working much closer with local people really will make a significant impact on crime."

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said he welcomed the proposal to elect police authorities, but added: "We are saddened that his proposals will perpetuate confusion and bureaucracy because he is going to retain most of the power of local police in Whitehall."

The Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: "More bobbies, not more ballots, is what people want from the home secretary."

Last year, police community support officers were introduced to help tackle anti-social behaviour.

They do not have the same powers of arrest as regular officers, but provide a visible presence and deal with low level public disorder.

The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"David Blunkett wants the public to be more involved"


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