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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 18:22 GMT
Radical police reforms unveiled
Police officer
Police will be able to blood test drink-drive suspects
Civilian warden patrols and blood tests for suspected drink-drivers are among radical reforms planned for the police service in England and Wales.

The wide-ranging Police Reform Bill confirms the wardens - to be called "community support officers" - will have the power to detain suspects until the police arrive.

Home Secretary David Blunkett also wants blood samples taken from suspected drink-drivers without permission if necessary, even if they are still unconscious.

Modernisation cannot be an excuse for policing on the cheap

Fred Broughton, Police Federation
The reforms have prompted concerns about civil liberties and the powers given to civilians.

The Police Federation - which represents rank-and-file officers - believes the government is giving the new wardens too much power.

But ministers say the plans will free up highly trained and better-paid officers to work on more serious crime.

The new tier of police auxiliaries will be answerable to chief constables and they will concentrate on high visibility patrols to tackle problems like anti-social behaviour, truancy and abandoned vehicles.

But they won't now be equipped with CS gas or batons.

'Ending red tape'

The Bill also addresses the issue of under-performing police forces. The home secretary will have new powers to remove chief constables if he thinks they or their force are not efficient enough.

The new Police Standards Unit will be able to step in where a force is failing.

Police reforms
Civilian wardens
Drink-drive blood tests
Vehicle confiscation
Power over chief constables
And for the first time complaints against the police will be investigated wholly by an independent Police Complaints Commission - rather than by officers from other forces.

The government says the new civilian wardens will not take the place of police officers, whose numbers Home Office Minister John Denham said would reach record levels this spring and rise to 130,000 by next year.

Police officers were currently spending 40% of their time stuck in police stations and they needed to be freed from red tape and be given support from "appropriately trained" civilians, he told the BBC.

Tackling anti-social behaviour

The community support officers (CSOs) would work for the police and would do a different job from traditional police officers, said Mr Denham.

"What we want them to do is to have the ability to implement a limited number of current police powers in relation to fixed notice penalties and also to tackle anti-social behaviour."

Oliver Letwin
Letwin is worried about political interference in policing
Mr Denham denied giving the home secretary new powers to remove chief constables meant politicians were taking control of policing.

The home secretary already had powers to force the retirement of a chief constable but they were "arcane" and unusable.

Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents 126,000 frontline officers, said members were against giving CSOs powers to stop and use force against the public.

"The Federation believes that employing lesser-trained and lesser-paid civilians to perform police duties will undermine policing by consent and could create more problems than it solves," he said.

Independence fears

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) supported the thrust of the plans but said it wanted to consider the details before giving a full response.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin argued the creation of CSOs could cause "some confusion about who is and who is not a policeman".

Mr Letwin said he was also very worried about the centralisation implied by the home secretary's proposed new powers over chief constables.

"The operational independence of chief constables is central to the rule of law in this country, since it ensures that no politician can ever use the police for political ends."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The wardens will be paid less but deny it is policing on the cheap"
Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation
"This is an area where we need more professionalism, not less"
UK Home Office Minister John Denham
"We need to supplement the police force"
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Norman Baker
"The principle is right"
See also:

25 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Beat officers 'oppose police reforms'
05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
'Radical' police reform unveiled
05 Dec 01 | England
Wardens welcome patrol reform
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Police anger over Blunkett reforms
12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett reveals police reform plans
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