Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 17:58 UK

Elected police commissioners bill planned

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs correspondent

Police passing out parade for new officers
Locally-elected supervision of police forces is proposed.

Plans for directly-elected figures to oversee police forces are included in the Queen's Speech, in line with one of the Conservative party's key pledges.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will apply to forces in England and Wales.

The plans for officials who could be known as police commissioners are opposed by some senior officers.

Home Secretary Theresa May says the officials will ensure that forces meet local rather than Whitehall targets.

Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs the new figures would be "commissioners". Home Office ministers are looking at a range of options and the name may change as the job specification is nailed down.

"Tripartite" arrangement of chief officers, local Police Authority and Home Secretary
Further oversight by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary
Local police authorities:
Elected councillors, at least one magistrate and independent members
Consults community on priorities and sets "strategic direction"
Sets the policing budget, including how much comes from council tax
Appoints chief constables and senior officers in consultation with Home Office
Can force out chief constable with Home Secretary's backing

Under the basic proposal which was included in the Conservative manifesto, local people would elect an official who would then set priorities for the force. The chief constable would in turn be expected to meet these priorities.

The broadest job description could include overseeing other elements of local crime fighting, including the Criminal Justice Board, the body which brings together police, probation, prosecution and other agencies.

The government is already seeking to reassure senior officers that the official would not interfere in the day-to-day running of the police - but some police chiefs are already known to oppose the plan.

They say that commissioners in US cities have politicised crime-fighting, making it harder for officers to focus on doing their job.

'Untested proposal'

Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, warned last year that senior officers may quit.

Responding to the Queen's Speech, he said: "One of the great strengths of the British style of policing is the balance between… robust accountability at local level and operational independence. The police service is more effective through the freedom to make professional judgments about how we keep people safe, free from political interests.

Sir Ian Blair
Forced out: Sir Ian Blair clashed with London Mayor

"The Government has said it wants to protect that operational independence. We now need to see the detail of how it will aim to strike that balance."

And Rob Garnham, chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, said: "Police authorities do not believe that at this time, when money is particularly tight, that the government should be looking to introduce costly, untested and uncalled-for changes which would put at risk the accountability of British policing, which is currently widely regarded as the best in the world."

Chief constables became increasingly worried about the plan after the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair quit in 2008. He had lost the support of London Mayor Boris Johnson who said he wanted to see a new figure at the top of the force.

But Kit Malthouse, Mr Johnson's successor as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said the plan would bring police closer to communities.

"We're very supportive. It's about time that the public had a direct relationship with the police who keep them safe," he said.

"This will streamline the police and align policing priorities with those of the community."

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