Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Give the Met Real Muscle; the Government Proposes to Merge Police Forces in All but the One Place It Would Make Sense - London. but the Post-7/7 City Needs Joined-Up Policing

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Give the Met Real Muscle; the Government Proposes to Merge Police Forces in All but the One Place It Would Make Sense - London. but the Post-7/7 City Needs Joined-Up Policing

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN FREEDLAND

TONY Blair is a man in a hur ry. Ever since he announced that this would be his last term as prime minister, he has acted as if there is not a second to lose.

Policies that would normally be introduced and debated gradually are now rammed through at breakneck speed, whether it be his post-7/7 plan to fight terrorism - floated in August and partially defeated by November - or an education overhaul that has gone from vague proposal to parliamentary bill in a matter of weeks.

Nothing typifies this Supermarket Sweep approach to governance - shoving as much in the political trolley as he can before his time runs out - as the PM's proposed shake-up of Britain's police forces. In November the country's 43 forces were put on notice that they were to be cut down to as few as 12: there would be just six weeks for consultation and no Commons debate.

This, like so many decisions taken in a hurry, is a bad idea. The new regional forces will cover vast, sprawling areas with no meaningful identity.

They will be anonymous, composite bodies far removed from the people they're meant to serve. If you live in Shrewsbury or Hereford, you could well find your "local" policeman gets his instructions from Birmingham.

Notice a break-in in Chatham, and you could be phoning the details to a desk sergeant in Brighton.

It's not like we don't know why this is a mistake. We already have experience of these mega-forces, thanks to the last Conservative government whose own round of mergers cut the number of constabularies by twothirds. In 2003, the Right-leaning Policy Exchange think-tank analysed government statistics and found "no evidence that larger, amalgamated forces are generally more effective or offer better value for money".

What they discovered instead was something our own instincts could have told them: that when it comes to policing, the more local the better.

Fighting crime means knowing the backstreets of an area, its shops and pubs, its quirky rhythms and customs and, above all, its people. …

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