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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 14:37 GMT
Analysis: Cutting cops' red tape
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs reporter

Philip Glenister
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How will the police look after proposed reforms to cut red tape? And will the police be able to deliver?

It's a remarkable piece of good timing for the government that as BBC One launches Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to top-cops drama Life on Mars, a real-life top policemen proposes sweeping changes to how they do their job.

But rather than call for a return to DCI Gene Hunt's kick-down-the-door-maybe-ask-questions-later technique, Sir Ronnie Flanagan's report calls for a root-and-branch reform of the process of policing.

So cut the red tape and get smarter with resources, says the chief inspector of constabularies. And the prize for doing so, he argues, is more effective policing, more community trust - and less criminality.

But in the real world of Home Office police planning, getting 43 constabularies from where they are now to a leaner and more productive future will take more than a speeding 1970s bronze Cortina full of no-nonsense detectives.

'Serious decisions'

And understanding where forces need to get to means a long, hard look at where a lot of police officers currently feel they are stuck.

The Home Office commissioned Sir Ronnie's report into the future of policing to find ways of cutting bureaucracy, developing neighbourhood policing, improving local accountability and making best use of available money.

His conclusion is that policing now stands at a crossroads and that "very serious decisions" need to be taken to ensure that policing is still able to do what it does now in 10 years time.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Sir Ronnie: Cut red tape - focus on ethics

Over the past 10 years police funding in England and Wales has risen dramatically - up about 5bn, leading to record numbers of more than 140,000 police officers.

But that is no longer sustainable. Public spending in the next three years is expected to be cut back and police numbers may need to come down.

Sir Ronnie says there are too many forms, too much time spent in the station dealing with regulatory requirements - and far too many "worst-case scenario" steps built into a policing culture that has become risk-averse.

Some 41 new pieces of official police doctrine have emerged in the past two years and 22 more are being developed, says Sir Ronnie.

Crucially, he says that when new police chiefs start developing new doctrine there appears to be no rethink of existing policies to see if anything can be dropped to make life easier.

"If we are not careful," he argues in his report, "the 21st Century police service is in danger of becoming a slave to doctrine and straitjacketed by process."

New systems

Here's an example for the everyday life of an ordinary constable. He makes an arrest and brings the suspect to the custody suite at the station. Sir Ronnie says that officer could end up spending half their shift there dealing with the process of arrest and detention. He suggests that the current trials on handing over to civilian staff show the way forward.


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But many officers - and indeed lawyers - are concerned about such moves, arguing that it is a police officer's responsibility to oversee arrest and detention. A civilian should not be doing a police officer's job.

But Sir Ronnie says this is not the point. It's about creating new systems to allow police to police and civilians to be better placed to do the jobs that, in reality, many police officers may feel they should not be doing.

The Flanagan review concludes that huge amounts of energy and time are being wasted by police officers in how they are expected to handle the 80% of crimes that can be considered low-level minor offences.

So does this run contrary to the principles of community policing - dealing with the little things that matter most in creating a feeling of safety? Not at all, he argues.

What he wants is for officers dealing with minor offences to be excused from spending hours filling out the same forms as they would on major investigations.

"This does not mean that these crimes would not be addressed," he told the BBC.

"It means that the back office functions, the seven-page documents being used would go. It would mean officers spending more time with victims, more time on the crime, the same level of detailed analysis on what happened and searching for the offender."

Staffordshire, one of the four forces to trial this streamlined approach, has calculated that it alone stands to gain 40,000 man hours by changing the way constables manage information on minor offences.

Stop and search

Nationally, says Sir Ronnie, these changes and more would free millions of man hours of wasted time, equivalent to at least 2,500 police officers.

John O'Connor
The very first thing in my pocket book was a caution for being off my beat. I was in the coffee stall where everyone was having a meat pie and a cup of tea
John O'Connor

Which brings us to the most controversial element of the package: stop and search.

The Home Secretary has already signalled that she broadly accepts the package of reforms. Her first move has been to scrap the forms related to stop-and-account, a measure introduced after the murder of Stephen Lawrence to ensure that officers record who they speak to.

Sir Ronnie's plan is for police to issue some kind of receipt to those stopped, perhaps a business card, and to simply record the stop, and the person's ethnicity, on the police's new digital communications system. Stop-and-search itself could be reformed later on, he suggests.

The question is how will these moves be greeted in some communities which see themselves at the sharp end of poor local policing. At the moment there is suspicion and fear. But Sir Ronnie says the answer lies in reinforcing police ethics as red tape is cut away.

"When I joined the police force in 1970, the first thing that I learned on day one was the definition of courtesy.

"Without courtesy, no officer would be able to deliver a service to the public that they expect or demand."

Uniformed officers out on patrol

Concerns over civilian officers
19 Nov 07 |  Cumbria
Top policing role for Sir Ronnie
08 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Controversy dogs Flanagan's last days
30 Mar 02 |  Northern Ireland

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