February 26, 2009 / 12:08 AM / 11 years ago

Police hampered by "obsolete structure"

LONDON (Reuters) - Police forces in England and Wales are failing to deliver results against the most serious crimes despite being the most expensive in the world, according to a think tank report released on Thursday.

A police officer stands outside Bow Street Magistrates Court in London, August 4, 2005. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell

The report by Reform said London’s Metropolitan Police should take national responsibility for dealing with crimes involving drugs and guns, and that regional forces should be split up into smaller units to concentrate on local issues.

“The threat of crime is changing and growing,” said Elizabeth Truss, Reform’s Deputy Director.

“But the police response has been hampered by the obsolete structure of 43 regional forces.”

The report, entitled “A New Force,” said the current 43 forces operated as “fiefdoms” run by Chief Constables who were only accountable to “weak” police authorities.

It said a lack of national coordination on serious and organised crimes allowed gun, drug and people-trafficking gangs to flourish.

That was despite an extra 4.5 billion pounds being spent on policing, with the cost per capita higher than every other country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 20 percent higher than the United States.

Reform called for the Met Police to take the lead role on major crime issues, echoing the structure used to tackle terrorism whereby hubs operated by local police are coordinated by the London force.

“The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) is the wrong answer to the right question,” Truss said, referring to the agency set up in 2006 to focus on offences such as drug crime and illegal immigration.

“The Metropolitan Police is the de facto national force and needs to be formally responsible,” Truss added.

She said the existing forces should be split into 95 units so they were better equipped to deal with local crime.

However the Home Office said it did not accept the tone of the report and said it was working to cut police bureaucracy to free up forces to address issues in their local communities.

“We make no apologies for investing record sums in the police service,” a spokesman said.

“This focus on common sense policing shows we trust the expertise of police officers to get down to business focussing on the issues that matter most to communities — driving down crime and driving up public confidence.”

The study is the latest to criticise the current police structure. A 2005 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary recommended merging smaller forces, saying they did not perform as well as larger ones and were not up to scratch.

But government merger plans were ditched amid opposition from senior officers and police authorities.

Last December, plans to have representatives directly elected to police authorities to make them more accountable was also dropped because of fears it would lead to political in-fighting.

Editing by Steve Addison

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