Thursday, 20 May 2010

Abolish The Association of Chief Police Officers!

Just as the new coalition government that promised a bonfire of the quangos buries its disagreements by setting up a series of review commissions, I see that a think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), is instead calling for the establishment of yet another one.

RUSI Associate Fellow Margaret Gilmore, another senior BBC journalist firmly embedded in the security establishment and the ghost-writer for Andy Hayman's dreadful book The Terrorist Hunters, has written a paper suggesting that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) becomes “a non-departmental government body or agency, with new legislation to facilitate independent oversight.” Acknowledging the controversy over ACPO's status as a unaccountable private company that is “increasingly influential” and “the unofficial co-ordinator of forces”, Gillmore argues that it is nevertheless a “much needed part of the policing mechanism in the UK” that fulfils “a critical function”. All it needs, apparently, is “the strong, independent oversight of other organisations funded largely by the taxpayer.”

This is the most charitable view possible of ACPO's position. Another would see ACPO's very existence as an obstacle to democratic control of the police, with senior police officers willing to allow some public involvement at the fringes so long as they maintain control of the commanding heights.

ACPO has become a powerful lobby group, actively supporting controversial proposals such as the introduction of ID cards and the extension of pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects, lobbying backbench MPs and leading the way in attacks on the Independent Police Complaints Commission after the G20 protests. This isn't just my view or even an outlandish one - even the Tories have previously accused ACPO’s leaders of providing “political cover to the Labour Government repeatedly and consistently”, of engaging in “gratuitous photocalls” with Gordon Brown and other ministers and of “publicly and privately lobbied against a number of key Conservative issues, going far beyond its role”.

Bringing ACPO under the usual perfunctory 'oversight' would leave the fundamental power that it holds unchallenged. Even a fairly liberal position, certainly one more liberal than offered by Gillmore, would argue that there is no reason why most of ACPO's activities, paid for with our money, shouldn't be taken over by central government and become directly accountable to Parliament.

At least that would mean that its many nefarious bodies – the Criminal Records Office, the Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, the National Community Tension Team, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, the Police National Information and Co-ordination Centre, the Confidential Intelligence Unit – would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. At least government ministers would be forced to explain the true cost of searches for information from the Police National Computer or why £1.6 million needs to be spent on flats in central London.

I personally think that democratic control of the police requires a far more drastic and radical approach than piecemeal reform, but in the short-term, there is no justification for ACPO's continued existence in the heart of government. It's not as though officers of senior rank who want to a body to represent them don't already have a separate staff association.

A new government promising “the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th century” could therefore do no worse than abolishing ACPO immediately.

1 Comment:

harpymarx said...

Totally and utterly agree!!

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