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Ms Blears: Robbery in Merseyside reduced by 5 per cent. in 200203 compared to 200102. This has been achieved by effective partnership working across all agencies. Overall strategic management of street crime is by the Multi Agency Group (MAG). At an operational level, this is supported by Joint Agency Groups (JAGs) and the Robbery Reduction Team. In the Robbery Reduction Team police and Crown Prosecution Service are co-located and the Premium Service provided.
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Ms Blears: The National Centre for Policing Excellence (NCPE) was launched in April 2003 to increase the professional capacity of the police service. Its functions include delivering training and advice on specialist law enforcement and technical and analytical support in major crime. It also has a major role in formulating national good practice in operational policing and issuing Codes of Practice and Guidance.
In 200203, it produced a knowledge map on street robbery which has been available to all forces on the Criminal Justice Extranet. A Code of Practice on the Police Use of Firearms and less lethal weapons was issued at the beginning of December 2003.
Ms Blears: Section 25 of the Police Reform Act has already been enacted and was brought into force (except subsection (4) on 1 October 2002. The intention is that the Secretary of State will be making regulations which will come into force on 1 April 2004.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department by what means police (a) forces and (b) authorities seek to develop a clear understanding of the communities they serve. 
Ms Blears: Under section 96 of the Police Act 1996, police authorities have a statutory obligation to consult with their communities. However, recent research conducted by the Home Office Research and Statistics Directorate concluded that there was scope to enhance engagement with communities.
Provision of a citizen focused policing service is a key priority within the National Policing Plan, published in November 2003, and is fundamental to the on-going process and direction of police reform. Building a police service that is responsive to the diverse needs of the communities it serves requires police forces to develop a clear understanding of those communities.
We have invested £1 million in a joint action research project between the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities to help police authorities and forces engage more effectively with their local communities.
A major consultation exercise on police reform was launched on 4 November 2003 with the publication of "Policing: Building Safer Communities Together". The broad vision behind the paper is to improve community engagement in policing. It is underpinned by the desire to see local communities play a greater role in policing/community safety decisions and solutions in their neighbourhoods.
Ms Blears : The White Paper, Policing a New Century, published in December 2001, set out the Government's intentions for the future of policing in England and Wales. Good progress has been made in implementing the Police Reform Programme. We now have a clear and
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understood legislative structure in place under the Police Reform Act 2002 to ensure best practice is embedded in the Service through Regulations, Codes of Practice and Guidance, and, linked to that, the ability to direct forces where their performance is consistently poor.
There is now a more clear focus on performance management within the Policing Performance Assessment Framework which is being developed, and the Police Standards Unit is working with forces to improve performance and identify good practice. The National Centre for Policing Excellence was established in April 2003.
As well as record numbers of police officers and police staff, we now have more than 1,900 community support officers (CSO). We have provided the necessary powers for CSOs and police staff to facilitate greater flexibility for forces in the use of resources and to release officers for front line duties. A major pay and conditions package has been implemented to provide a fairer, more flexible and modernised system of pay and rewards.
The second National Policing Plan was published on 4 November 2003 and sets out the Home Secretary's key policing priorities as well as a strategic framework for local policing plans. The first police science and technology strategy, published in January 2003 provides an overarching vision of how we will address not only our immediate policing needs, but also the future capability. We have invested in the use of new technology. DNA matching and Automatic Numberplate Recognition are important tools to achieve greater effectiveness. The National Intelligence Model is becoming embedded in forces, with the aim that all forces are compliant with the common minimum standards by April 2004.
Work is under way to develop leadership and management capacity at all levels in the police service. We are working towards creating the new Police Leadership Centre, which will bring together all the strands of work on police leadership.
Building on these and other successes, we wish to move the reform programme further. On 4 November 2003 we published a consultation document, "Policing: Building Safer Communities Together", in which we set out the broad direction for future reform, aimed particularly at:
Providing greater accountability.
Improving operational effectiveness in tackling crime, including serious and organised.
Further modernising the police service.
Ms Blears: The Home Office's Public Service Agreements commit it to improving the performance of all police forces, including significantly reducing the gap between the best and worst performing forces. The National Policing Plan 200407 set out the performance gap target which has been agreed. It is a fixed target requiring each force's performance in reducing crime
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and investigating crime to be no more than 10 per cent. below that of the average performance of its Most Similar Force comparators by 200506.
All forces are aware of the improvements in performance that are required, and to help police forces and authorities improve police performance and gauge progress, performance data is now available on-line to allow them to access regular updates on performance.
Programmes of work are developed in consultation with the force and in liaison with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), and are designed to provide practical help to enhance organisational capacity and capability.
Ms Blears: This information is not available. However, for the first time, all forces will be contributing data towards the calculation of the amount of time spent by police officers on front line duties for the financial year 200304. The results of this will be available later this year.
As indicated in paragraph 2.6 of the National Policing Plan 200407, a preliminary assessment of 35 forces outside London for 200203 gave an average figure of 61 per cent. This is not a baseline for future years. A number of initiatives are in train including, work force modernisation and reducing bureaucracy that will impact on the amount of time spent on front line policing and the Government look to the police service to ensure the proportion rises.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment has been made of the effect of the work of the steering group reducing bureaucracy in the police force. 
Ms Blears: I receive regular reports on the work of the Steering Group, co-chaired by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office, which was set up to oversee the work on reducing bureaucracy in the police service. Among the achievements since the Group first met in October 2002, the national roll out of the fixed penalty notice scheme is scheduled to be completed by April 2004; there are currently 19 performance indicators compared with 51 in 1997; over 4,600 forms have been made obsolete in 21 forces; approximately 20 forces are using mobile telephones and handheld computers to cut down on the time officers spend returning to the station to fill in forms; and all 43 forces in England and Wales now have the capacity to undertake video identity parades to speed up the identification of suspects. I am looking to the steering group to make further substantial impact in four key areas in particular over the conning months. These are information technology; work force modernisation; efficiency; and frontline policing activity.
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Ms Blears: The Government are committed to achieving a culturally diverse work force in the police service that is representative of the local communities it serves. We are engaged with the leadership of the police service in addressing diversity and promoting race equality in the areas of recruitment, training and development and in the conduct of the officers and staff. We support fully the Commission for Racial Equality's investigation of these issues.
The National Recruitment Standards programme includes assessment processes which test candidates' attitudes towards race and diversity vigorously through interviews, role play and written assessment. This should exclude anyone with racist tendencies or those who do not respect differences and diversity. Those who do not score sufficiently highly in respect for race and diversity are not offered a job, irrespective of how well they do in the rest of the selection process. These processes are already in place in a number of forces and will be implemented in the remainder of the service by summer 2004. We assess candidates for unacceptable attitudes in every exercise.
I shall further support this with a new action plan "Breaking Through" which is being launched later this month and which contains a series of actions and examples of promising practice to help forces improve the recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic staff.
A new round of the CouldYou Police recruitment campaign has just been launched aimed, in particular, at the recruitment of women and ethnic minorities. The campaign is supported by outreach work pilots in four forces aimed at increasing the interest of ethnic minority communities in the police service as a credible and rewarding career choice.
Fundamental changes to the way in which probationer constables are trained are under way. The focus will be on delivery of practice-based training within the local community rather than in residential police training centres. This new approach is already being piloted in several areas of the country. Improvements are also being made to police training generally to improve awareness of race and diversity issues and increase opportunities for community involvement. There will be rigorous assessment of standards.
There are procedures under the Police Act 1996 and the Police (Misconduct) Regulations 1999 to deal with conduct which falls below the required standard. These procedures can be invoked by way of a complaint from a member of the public or a report or allegation from any other person. This includes any complaint or allegation of racial discrimination or attitudes. The Police Reform Act 2002 introduces a new complaints system to come into force on 1 April 2004, under which serious racial discrimination is a category of a complaint that must be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will decide how such a complaint will be dealt with.
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Ms Blears: There are no targets to increase the number of female officers in the most senior ranks of the Police Service. Proposals for the Policing Performance Assessment Framework (Annex C of the National Policing Plan 200407) include measures of overall strength, retention and promotion of female officers.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research has been conducted on the attitude of the public towards the police, with particular reference to racism. 
Ms Blears: The British Crime Survey and the Home Office Citizenship Survey both ask questions about people's attitudes towards the police and refer to racism. Both surveys establish the ethnic group of the respondents:
The most recent relevant results from the Home Office Citizenship Survey can be found in: 2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey: people, families and communities. Chapters 2 and 3. (Home Office Research Study 270, Attwood et al 2003).
Other Home Office studies, drawing in the perceptions and experiences of the public, have focused on key issues within police-community relations. These include: The Views of the Public on Stops and Searches (Police Research Series paper 129, Stone and Pettigrew 2000);
Attitudes of People from Minority Ethnic Communities towards a Career in the Police Service(Police Research Series paper 136, Stone and Tuffin 2000); and
Public Perceptions of Police Accountability and Decision-making (Home Office On-line Report 38/03, Docking 2003).
Ms Blears: The number of police officers has increased by 7 per cent. from 127,158 in March 1997 to 136,386 in August 2003. Evidence from the British Crime Survey over a similar period (between 1997 and 200203) indicates that burglary has fallen by 39 per cent., vehicle crime by 31 per cent., violent crime by 24 per cent. while crime overall declined by 25 per cent.
The Government are committed to maximising the benefits of this increase. Working with the Service and others, a police reform agenda focused on community engagement, greater local accountability, operational effectiveness and workforce modernisation will produce further improvements.
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