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‘The Home Secretary Should Take On The Police… and Her Own Department’, by Sheila Lawlor

The Home Secretary Should Take On The Police… and Her Own Department

Sheila Lawlor

Friday 16th June 2012: MPs are threatening to block the appointment of Tom Winsor as Chief Inspector of Constabulary. But the real battle for police reform will be with the Home Office, writes Politeia’s Director Sheila Lawlor.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has her work cut out for her with the police. Last week they were on the air waves, before that the streets, to oppose changes to pay and conditions. In particular, they have opposed a recent Pay Review which proposes a crackdown on pay for back-room jobs, to reward merit and front-line policing and to put an end to jobs-for-life. Some police are also livid that the author of the report, Tom Winsor, a lawyer and former Rail Regulator, has now been proposed as Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

While tackling pay and conditions is an important start, it’s just the tip of a far more entrenched problem – the Home Office itself. The Home Office is no stranger to fantasy, a poor foundation for good policy. For instance, contrary to the reasonable view, born out by evidence from the New York police force, that putting officers on the beat helps prevent and reduce crime, the Home Office has held otherwise. In the same way, it has contended that crime itself was not the problem, but rather the ‘fear of crime’, so substituting exercises in psychology for policing. And, in line with the Whitehall mania for managerial initiatives and control, policing by targets and paperwork had become the order of the day by 2010. Meanwhile forces have been amalgamated or moved, and local police stations closed in England’s towns and cities.

The consequences have been dire: the officer on the beat has been replaced by a ‘happy couple’ in community support uniform, or by a CCTV camera; able officers have left the force; police stations have vanished from town centres. It is hardly coincidental that England’s towns are blighted by weekend yobbishness and disorder; that burglary, theft, violent assault and drug dealing scars rural as well as urban communities; that riots and looting can take over cities. When the law moves out lawlessness moves in.

Winsor’s reforms will go some way to meet the problem: higher standards of entry and a graduate entry stream; pay to reward merit and front-line and specialist policing; an end to the jobs-for- life system and opportunities for new blood appointments. Indeed they were part of the package of reform in Politeia’s earlier analysis, Policing Matters. However, pay and conditions are only one side of the problem. The other is the Home Office. That will be a far tougher culture to crack.

*Dr Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia