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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 16:38 GMT
Police red tape targeted
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett walked the beat to find out what it is like
A video system to replace the traditional police identity parade has been announced by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The move is one of a series of measures designed to cut red tape and free up officers to "concentrate on core issues" including catching criminals and reassuring the public.


It is right that we should use [police] to concentrate on their core functions

David Blunkett
Home Secretary

Mr Blunkett said he was committed to removing "bottlenecks" in the system allowing officers to be freed to get on with police work.

He said: "Police officers are highly trained professionals with wide-ranging powers and skills.

"It is right that we should use them to concentrate on their core functions - reducing crime, catching criminals and providing reassurance."

Mr Blunkett unveiled the package alongside the results of a "ground-breaking" independent study into police workloads commissioned by the government.

The project, called Diary of a Police Officer, indicates the average constable spends 43% of their time in the office, of which 41% is spent on paperwork.

Police life

Researchers asked 400 officers to keep a diary of their daily duties and carried out in-depth interviews with 100 more.

The survey led to 19 recommendations being made which will now be studied by a taskforce to be led by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir David O'Dowd.

The recommendations include:

  • Moving responsibility for missing persons, lost property and animals to other agencies

  • Forcing other organisations to pick up the bill where police become involved in a non-crime fighting role - recapturing patients on the run from secure wards is one example

  • Reducing time spent on intruder alarms, 85% of which are false alarms

  • Greater use of laptop and hand-held computers so crimes can be reported away from the station

    Mr Blunkett is expected to publish his long-awaited White Paper on police reforms within weeks.

    The announcements on the use of civilians and plans for ID parades are the first official indication of its contents.

    The video system to replace identity parades will require changes in evidence rules and has already met with opposition from one ex-offenders' charity that claims it will lead to miscarriages of justice.

    The system uses clips from a vast database of possible face types with film of a suspect in identical circumstances.

    But Mark Leech, chief executive of Unlock, said there could be no substitute for the person making an allegation" facing the person they are accusing, looking them in the eye and saying, `This is the man',".

    Conventional parades often take days to organise and cost 14m each year.

    Cancellations

    Police have to cancel half for a lack of appropriate participants.

    And video clips are thought to reduce the likelihood of bias against ethnic minorities.

    Before he made his announcement Mr Blunkett went out on the beat with PC Malcolm Young in Bedale, North Yorkshire.

    PC Young went on the BBC's Question Time programme and challenged the home secretary to come and find out what police life was like.

    Mr Blunkett said he had been very impressed by the officer's commitment to his job.

    "Part of being a rural officer and being able to do the job well is being part of the community, knowing people, knowing what is going on and being able to anticipate things," he said.

    Police Federation vice chairman Jan Berry later welcomed many of Mr Blunkett's proposals before adding that a boost in the number of officers was required.

    "Police officers want to be out and about engaging with their communities and providing a visible presence and deterring street crime," she said.

    "But for the past five years or so numbers have fallen and chief officers have not given patrolling the importance it deserves.

    Miscarriage?

    "They have devalued the function and plundered the uniform patrol base for other uses, including hitting performance indicators.

    "At long last the tide appears to be turning and the need for visible policing is again acknowledged."

    Meanwhile the chief executive of the former offenders' charity, Unlock, said that video ID parades could lead to miscarriages of justice.

    They should be scrapped, not expanded across the country, he said.

  • See also:

    11 Sep 01 | UK Politics
    Top police recruits to be fast-tracked
    12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
    Blunkett reveals police reform plans
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