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Thursday, 20 May 2010

Extremists could take over police - warning

Extremists could seize control of the police under controversial government plans for elected commissioners, a North-East watchdog has warned.

Cleveland Police Authority condemned the US-style proposal for the public to choose their police chief - alleging there would be “disastrous consequences for one of our most important public services”.

The attack came as new Home Secretary Theresa May - in her first major speech - vowed to press ahead with introducing elected leaders, despite acknowledging police “concerns”.

The measure will be included in a policing Bill in next week's Queen's Speech, which will set out the first priorities for the new Conservative-Liberal coalition.

But Councillor Dave McLuckie, the chairman of Cleveland Police Authority, said the idea was opposed by local politicians of every party, as well as by “bobbies on the beat”.

And he added: “It is a very bad idea which will do nothing to improve either accountability or the quality of service to the public, but could cause enormous damage to the principles which make British policing the envy of the world.
“The Home Secretary must think again about a proposal which could have disastrous consequences for one of our most important public services.”

Cllr McLuckie said Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), had warned of policing falling into the hands of “lunatics, or extreme interests”, adding: “It could result in chief constables resigning.”
The Association of Police Authorities (APA) plans to meet Mrs May next week, to add its voice to the protests.
Under the plans - which were included in the Conservative manifesto - the new elected leaders would have the power to set budgets and policing strategy, but not be allowed to interfere with operational independence.
Similar Labour plans for every borough to have a directly-elected representative on police authorities were dropped in the last parliament, after a near-identical outcry.

Yesterday, speaking to the Police Federation, Mrs May tried to win over the rank-and-file, deliberately not using the phrase “police commissioner” and saying: “I want to put your mind at rest.”

However, she vowed to press head with the policy, describing the idea of elections as a “giant step in the right direction” that would ensure a community’s wishes were carried out.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Home Secretary denied there was a risk of extremists taking control, saying: “I believe and trust in the people in electing these individuals.

“Just as the people made sure they did not elect any BNP members of parliament at the election, I do not think you would see any individual elected as a police commissioner, or whichever word we wish to use.”

Some police forces have raised fears of a repeat of the crisis that hit the Metropolitan force, in London, when Boris Johnson, the elected mayor, sacked its chief, Sir Ian Blair.

Northern Echo