We need a Royal Commission!
The service is now facing its biggest overhaul in decades, after more than 40 years of piecemeal reform. Jon Gilbin, Chairman of the Sergeants' Central Committee, explains why a Royal Commission into policing is now needed more than ever.
The Police Federation of England and Wales has been calling for a wholesale root and branch review of policing for over ten years, as a consequence of the piecemeal and disparate approaches to reform that have characterised these past decades.
These changes have invariably created more problems than they have solved. We are long overdue a review of the way England and Wales are policed.
The last such review took place in 1962 and a lot has changed since then. Now, nearly 50 years on, the climate is such that there has never been a better time to undertake a fundamental and holistic review, by way of a Royal Commission, into all aspects of policing in England and Wales.
"The Hutton review on police pensions, the Winsor review on police pay and conditions, the Neyroud review of leadership and training – are all indicative of this piecemeal, disjointed and reactionary approach that addresses only part of the problem".
The Hutton review on police pensions, the Winsor review on police pay and conditions, the Neyroud review of leadership and training – these are all indicative of the piecemeal, disjointed and reactionary approach that addresses only part of the problem, not the whole problem.
The Police Reform Act 2002 set the scene and prepared the way for a myriad of inquiries, reports and reviews into the way Britain should be policed at the commencement of the 21st century. At its heart was a complete re-engineering of policing, with the focus being on increased performance, efficiency, flexibility and citizen-focused policing of diverse neighbourhoods, but there was to be no Royal Commission.
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However, no one appears to be providing the level of detailed, independent and objective assessment of what the police service and community really need. The lack of recognition of the role and skills of a police officer, and in particular the uniqueness of the office of constable, is deeply disturbing and worrying.
While administrative tasks have increasingly been undertaken by non-sworn staff, more and more operational roles are now being carried out by them too. Little or no consideration appears to have been given to the impact this will have on policing as we know it in the medium to long term.
"We are witnessing a fragmentation of the police service, characterised by a lack of standardisation, consistency and clarity of roles and responsibilities. This has been compounded by increased financial pressures for forces and concerns around resources, capacity and resilience".
We are now witnessing a fragmentation of the police service, characterised by a lack of standardisation, consistency and clarity of roles and responsibilities. This has been compounded by increased financial pressures for forces and concerns around resources, capacity and resilience. Quite understandably this has raised concerns as to the confused and dysfunctional nature of the current state of policing as a consequence of political interference.
A Royal Commission, much along the same lines of that of 1962, is desperately needed.
So, why was there a Royal Commission in 1962 and how did it come to manifest itself in the Police Act 1964? The early 1960s were years of uncertainty for the police service and for the organs of central and local government which administered it.
For the first time since the ‘new Police’ were created in 1829, a Royal Commission was appointed in January 1960 with terms of reference sufficiently wide ranging to require it to examine afresh the fundamental principles on which the service relied.
At the same time the Commission was asked to review the principles governing police pay. It was also to inquire into relations between the police and the public and the manner in which complaints were dealt with. As a result 111 recommendations were drawn up by the Commission and the final report was published in May 1962. The estimated expenditure of the Commission was £49,370. Not surprisingly, it discovered a great deal that was out of date. Many of those original recommendations remain today, including the role of the constable, HMIC, and police authorities. The Bill received Royal Assent in June 1964.
Fifty years have elapsed since the last Royal Commission. I would argue that just as in 1962 we are at a pivotal point in our history, that society has changed immeasurably since the 1960s and the police service must change with it. The only way that can be achieved is through a far-reaching independent approach – a Royal Commission.
If a Royal Commission were to examine the police service today, I have no doubt that it would reveal that its current structures and practices are out of date. It is time to be bold.
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