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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Extra police 'just part of reform plan'
Tony Blair, police officer and computer
Tony Blair gets a lesson in 21st century policing
The prime minister has said that the national campaign to recruit 9,000 new police officers is part of a campaign to overhaul the country's criminal justice system.

Tony Blair told an audience of police officers in Kent that the UK's old-fashioned system needed dragging into the 21st century in order to match modern-day criminals.

One thing I've learned in this job is every time we do make changes there is someone who is adversely affected by it and leaps out and says this is monstrous

Tony Blair
Mr Blair said that an ongoing review of the way the courts, police and probation services worked together was essential to deliver real improvements.

He warned, however, that certain sections of the system would be resistant to change - something that always happened when modernisation took place.

Resistance to change

The prime minister told officers at the Kent police force's Maidstone headquarters that Britain had "a 19th century justice system in a 21st century world".

The police service must have the latest technology and we are determined to support them in this

Tony Blair
Organised crime, on the other hand, had kept up with change.

Asked by one officer whether the police would have a period of stability to adjust to recent reforms, Mr Blair's reply was that further change was needed.

"One thing I've learned in this job is every time we do make changes there is someone who is adversely affected by it and leaps out and says this is monstrous," he said.

This could not be allowed to stop modernisation, he said, but money would not be spent blindly: "If you are not careful with public services you can take a large sum of money and not get very much out of it at the end."

DNA database

Mr Blair used the example of the national DNA database as the sort of initiative he wanted to see more of.

He pointed out that 109m from the Comprehensive Spending Review would be spent on increasing the database over the next three years.

"The new database allows us to put all convicted criminals on record. It will, over time, have a far-reaching impact on our ability to catch criminals and convict them.

"The police service must have the latest technology and we are determined to support them in this, the prime minister said.

Responding to questions, the prime minister said the government was examining what could be done to prevent abuse of the bail system and increasing protection of witnesses.

He also highlighted the problems of speeding up the court process, saying a recent study had shown that for every 1,000 hours officers attended courts they spent just 30 hours giving evidence.

"This has built up over a long time. The court system is run far too much for the convenience of the individual court," he said.

Police officers' challenge

Earlier, Mr Blair and Home Secretary Jack Straw visited a new recruiting centre for the Metropolitan Police Force in London, which is currently facing a shortfall of 2,000 officers.

Mr Blair told recruits that the new campaign was long overdue.

"It's often impossible for members of the public to understand just the sheer range of duties police officers have to undertake.

"Every day is different, every challenge is different, you have got to deal with situations that can be completely different one day to the next - but all of them profoundly challenging," he said.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, however, denounced the visits.

"Only a day after the home secretary wilfully sought to conceal a damning fall in police recruitment over the last year, he and the prime minister are arrogantly masquerading as the police officers' friends," she said.

"I am not fooled by this cynical ploy. The police service will not be fooled and neither should the public."

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