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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Police customer service targeted
Police recruits
Mr Blunkett's plans aim to improve first impressions of the police
The home secretary has outlined plans to improve the relationship between the public and police in England and Wales.

David Blunkett is creating a new "Coppers' Contract" with a minimum standard of service the public can expect from the police.

The Police Superintendents' Association (PSA) conference has also heard calls for the 43 county forces to be replaced by a single national police force.

PSA president Rick Naylor argued there are currently too many inconsistencies.

Professional service

Chief Superintendent Naylor told delegates: "We believe it's time to take a bold and radical step to deal with the present and prepare us for the future."

He hoped the upcoming government White Paper would give the police a "clear direction of travel".

The conference heard that a survey of senior officers and police authority members found only a minority of respondents favoured keeping the current structure, which has not changed in 30 years.

It seems a very odd priority - the first priority is to catch criminals
David Davis
Shadow home secretary

Mr Blunkett does not favour the idea, instead stressing the need for clarity between national and local responsibilities.

Local forces could, however, develop centres of excellence to handle major incidents in their area, he says.

In his speech, the home secretary instead concentrated on the need to improve the experience of the 44% of people who had direct contact with the police every year.

A Mori poll had suggested policing, unlike health and education, was the one major public service where people were less satisfied the more contact they had with it.

"We won't put up with the situation where people cannot get through [to call centres], they are frustrated when they do, where people have not been trained to prioritise, where they do not actually give people a clear idea of what's going to take place," he said.

Surveillance 'absurdity'

Mr Blunkett appealed for senior police officers to work with the government on an initiative which could turn round people's perceptions of the police.

Public satisfaction had risen 10% in Lancashire, where police had focused on giving people a clear idea of how their problem would be handled.

The home secretary won applause from the conference for promising to remove "absurd" steps needed to be taken by officers before mounting surveillance on crime hotspots.

"Human rights legislation was supposed to be about people's rights, not about denying the rights so the criminals can actually make monkeys of us," he said.

Despite the complaints of one police superintendent, Mr Blunkett insisted paperwork and targets were being slimmed down for police.

He also appealed for the media to compare like with like on crime figures. He warned there could be a vicious circle where police worked better, recorded more crime but were thought by the public to be doing worse.

In fact, the British Crime Survey had shown a 30% fall in crime in the last seven years, he added.

He aims to have the measures implemented over the next two years.

Youth offenders

Shadow home secretary David Davis said minimum national standards were a common sense idea.

But, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It seems a very odd priority. The first priority is to catch criminals and that's the first job of the police."

Meanwhile, a new report says eight out of 10 young offenders on a flagship community punishment scheme reoffend within a year.

Results for persistent criminals on the government's Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme were better than typical figures after a jail term.

And Mr Blunkett suggested changing the programme in some areas had produced good results.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Mr Blunkett is telling every police force... to follow Lancashire's example"

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