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Speaking up for democracy
15 Jan 2014

Today sees another attempt to blunt the influence of chief officers. In a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon, a Kent MP will lead an attack on the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) saying it is undemocratic and unnecessary.

Mark Reckless, in an article for Central Lobby ahead of the debate, slings as much mud at ACPO as he can using every label that is likely to stir his fellow Tories to agree to ACPO’s demise – quango, fiefdom and limited company that is unaccountable to the public are some.

The article contains many assertions that will no doubt be replayed in the debate, such as it costs £4 million to administer ACPO. This provides a false impression as it is more like £1.2 million with the remainder going to other organisations – the biggest chunk to the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NaBIS) – that come under the ACPO umbrella and will continue whatever happens to ACPO.

He points to ACPO as an unelected group that governs the people as its role involves creating guidance on how policing operates. He fails to state that every piece of guidance was created under a framework established by Parliament, with significant elements commissioned by the Home Secretary.

Mr Reckless argues that ACPO undermines the role of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) who seek to tailor policing to local needs. They are now in place with the power to hire and fire chief constables.

The guidance produced by ACPO actually attempted to create consistency and raise standards above minimum levels, in areas that needed standards raised, such as rape investigations, with considerable success.

I doubt Mr Reckless will suggest that PCCs now tailor each force’s rape investigations to different standards. I do expect him to say this is now the job of the College of Policing; it has been created by the coalition Government to lift standards and ensure police integrity. But who will lead such developments for the College? Not its own staff that is for sure. It will be chief constables giving their time freely, Mr Reckless hopes.

If MPs want to see ACPO disappear, and PCCs take over the huge amount of work that chief constables, and other chief officers, do nationally through ACPO, he needs to have a costed model for what will come afterwards. PCCs cannot decide on national standards, they need to be guided by someone and that has to be paid for. When a review looked into how much time is provided by chief officers to support national development of policy and practice, the figure was so high that any thoughts of finding a way to pay for it were quickly dismissed.

Mr Reckless is not very good at quoting General Sir Nick Parker’s review of ACPO, he attempts to link ACPO’s limited company status, which successive governments have failed to address, with the money provided to run ACPO. Sir Nick’s report actually said ACPO provides value for money. He went on to say that there needs to be a chief constables’ council which should cost £1.2 million.

So there are no cost savings from getting rid of ACPO, then why is Mr Reckless prepared to so vehemently campaign against the body?
Perhaps the truth lies in the legitimacy of police officers and politicians. Whenever a politician stands up to speak, the public expects a series of half-truths and a one-sided view, driven by a hidden agenda, to be expressed. When a senior police officer speaks, the public expects the whole truth or, if found to be lying, they will be sacked. The Pleb-gate scandal has done much to dent that confidence but the political discussions that have taken place since 2006, especially within the Conservative Party, show why it is keen to get rid of a voice that has so much more credibility.

The last seven years have seen enough investigations into the corruption of politicians that the public should have considerable concern about the motives behind proposals to control the police any further. It is in the interest of some politicians to have complete compliance from chief officers.

Through this article, and I expect the debate this afternoon, Mr Reckless has continued to provide half-truths, he has certainly presented a one-sided view. I suggest MPs seriously question the agenda that is hidden behind the assertions, or else they will fail democracy, not serve it.


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