Page last updated at 03:15 GMT, Saturday, 7 November 2009

Call to elect local police chiefs

Police handcuffs
Policy Exchange says its plan represents a "radical shift" in policing

Towns should elect police commissioners to hold local commanders and officers to account, a think tank says.

Policy Exchange said commissioners could represent communities and replace anonymous and weak police authorities.

Each commissioner would represent one of the 228 "basic command units" in England and Wales, typically a town-sized area with 400 officers.

The right-leaning think tank's proposal goes further than Conservative plans for a commissioner for each force.

Each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales is divided into basic command units.

The think tank says that elected commissioners for each of these areas would facilitate regular public forums to hold to account the local police commander.

In turn, the commissioners for each area would form a new body that would replace police authorities that currently oversee each force.

If the Labour Party was putting forward this proposal, I would say it is as ill-thought out and historically ignorant as it is at the moment
Sir Ian Blair on Tory plans for commissioners

The report argues that as these new bodies are created, chief constables and their local commanders should also be cut loose of targets set by the Home Office to allow them to "respond to community priorities".

Legislation enabling home secretaries to fire chief constables would be repealed and top officers would be given powers to appoint senior colleagues.

Natalie Evans, the author of the report, said the local commissioners would represent a radical shift in policing - but would also be in the spirit of bringing constabularies closer to the people.

"Public confidence in the police has fallen dramatically," said Ms Evans.

"The recent, tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, whose 33 calls to the police went ignored, has served to reinforce the public view that the police accountability structure as it stands is failing our local communities."

"To increase accountability and meet communities' priorities, we should abandon central targets, and create genuine localism."

Police reforms

The report comes amid a tense political debate over local police accountability.

Sir Ian Blair
Sir Ian Blair opposes Tory plans to reform policing

Although crime has fallen significantly since the 1990s, a major internal government review of criminal justice found that too often people did not think their voice was being heard.

Since then, the Home Office has scrapped all targets for all forces in England and Wales, replacing them with a single expectation of improving public confidence.

Each force has a deadline to prove that local confidence in police officers has improved. Forces have also made a series of public promises to local people, known as the "Policing Pledge".

The Conservatives are still planning to replace existing police authorities with a directly elected police commissioner - but the exact model of how it would work will be unveiled nearer the general election.

But many police chiefs remain concerned about political interference after London Mayor Boris Johnson forced out former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair in October 2008.

In his autobiography, published last week, Sir Ian said the Conservative Party's proposals for elected commissioners should "never see the light of day".

"The introduction of elected commissioners… will be, in my view, seriously flawed and a historically ignorant proposal," he wrote.

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