Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

Home Office advert reprimand over police patrol pledge

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The policing advert that was banned

A £5m Home Office TV advert claiming police spend at least 80% of their time on the beat has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The advertising watchdog said the ad did not distinguish between time on patrol and wider community engagement.

The Conservatives have called on Gordon Brown to apologise for misleading people - and to stop repeating the claim in Labour election literature.

Police Minister David Hanson said he stood by what was an "honest campaign".

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has written to the prime minister calling on him to "pulp" any Labour leaflets containing the claim and apologise to the recipients of those already sent out.

"If this was an honest campaign it would not have been banned," he said.

"The government has been caught again misleading the public. The idea that our police are spending 80% of their time on the beat in our communities is for the birds. It is not happening."

Neighbourhood policing works. People know it works
David Hanson, police minister

The row is the latest between the two main parties over the use of crime statistics, with each side accusing the other of manipulating facts on crime trends for political ends.

The ad criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) highlights a key element of Labour's "policing pledge", a set of national minimum standards introduced in 2008.

It features a hoodie trying to steal a police badge but being taken away by officers.

It says the 80% beat pledge means the public will be seeing "a lot more" of the police "and so will any criminals".

'Visible presence'

In its ruling, which was leaked to the Guardian newspaper, the ASA said it had concerns about the basis for the 80% claim and the ad should not be broadcast again in "its current form".

"We noted the ad stated that at least 80% of the time would be spent 'on the beat' but that it did not make clear the commitment applied to 'working visibly' and included duties other than patrolling duties."

"We told the Home Office to ensure the basis of claims was made clear in future," it added and future claims had were adequately substantiated

The original policing pledge did not specify the amount of time officers must spend on the beat, rather requiring them to devote "at least 80% of their time visibly working in your neighbourhood".

Since the ad campaign was launched in December, Gordon Brown has flagged up the "clear right" of people to expect the 80% commitment in a speech on Labour's crime agenda.

The ASA also expressed concerns that the ad did not make it sufficiently clear that the pledge referred to neighbourhood police not all officers.

'Recognised term'

The ad refers explicitly to neighbourhood police but the watchdog concluded this was open to interpretation.

About 10% of the 140,000 uniformed officers in England and Wales work in neighbourhood teams, supplemented by community support officers.

The Home Office argues on the beat is a "recognised term" for the whole spectrum of work police do in neighbourhoods not just patrols.

For the government to be claiming 80% in this advert is frankly outrageous
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat

Mr Hanson said the watchdog's ruling concerned a "technicality" and, although he confirmed the advert would not run again in an amended form, he stood by its central assertion.

"It is an honest campaign," he told the BBC.

"Neighbourhood policing works. People know it works and we are committed to funding it for the future."

A recent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that officers in England and Wales were spending 36% of their time "in the community" including out on patrol.

The Lib Dems said the central claim of the advert was "demonstrably untrue" and "very misleading".

"For the government to be claiming 80% in this advert is frankly outrageous," said its home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

He added: "We have got to have more police on the beat, more effective policing and cut the paperwork to ensure they can do their job properly."



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