Police reform proposals outlined

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Home Secretary Theresa May has launched major reforms of policing in in England and Wales.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill creates police commissioners and changes the balance of power with chief constables.

POLICE COMMISSIONERS

At the heart of the government's proposals is a complete overhaul of the local control of police forces.

There are 43 forces for England and Wales and the government says it won't be merging them.

Instead, it says it wants to strengthen local democratic control by creating Police and Crime Commissioners for each force.

The commissioner will be directly elected and will hold the chief constable to account - meaning they will be able to hire and fire chief constables.

According to the legislation, the commissioner's basic duties will be to publish a "police and crime plan", set local police and crime objectives and the budget. The commissioner will also set the amount of the "precept" that their local electors have to pay, the part of police funding collected through the council tax.

The chief constable will appoint all other officers and will "retain responsibility for the direction and control of the police force".

The police commissioner takes over the responsibilities of the current police authorities - but they will have the additional power of being able to sack a chief constable. Under the current system, chiefs are appointed by the force's police authority in consultation with the Home Office.

Each force in England and Wales outside of London will elect a police commissioner in May 2012. The commissioners will be able to hold office for two terms.

London is being treated differently because the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is Britain's top police officer with national duties including co-ordinating counter-terrorism. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner is appointed directly by the Home Secretary who has to take the view of the Mayor of London into account.

LOCAL OVERSIGHT

Police Authorities will be scrapped. Instead, they will be replaced by a new body called a policing and crime panel. Police authorities oversee the budget and workings of a force and are comprised of local councillors, magistrates and other independent members.

The new panels will scrutinise the work of the commissioner, rather than the chief constable. They will comprise local councillors and other co-opted members.

LOCAL VOLUNTEERING

In its original consultation on the future of policing, ministers said they wanted to see the "police family extended" by encouraging more people to volunteer to help out. In the 1950s, there were almost 70,000 Special Constables in the UK. Today, there are about 14,000.

The government says it wants a "step change" in the level of volunteering and is also asking people what they think about a new category called police reservists. The government has not spelled out the role of a reservist, what powers they would have, or how that would differ to the specials.

Secondly, ministers suggest that local people could take part in "joint patrols with the police, looking out for their neighbours". it's not clear at this stage whether any of thes

NATIONAL CRIME AGENCY (NCA)

The other pillar of the proposed reforms is at the opposite end of the policing spectrum and concerns tackling organised crime. The former Labour government created the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to take on an umbrella role in the fight against major criminal operations.

The new body, to be created under future legislation, will include Soca and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. The NCA, which will have a chief constable and two key "commands" - one focusing on organised crime and the other on border policing.

It will have its own officers but will also be involved in the "tasking" of local forces who are involved in the same kind of work. For instance, there are 3,000 officers around the UK involved in border work.

In theory, the NCA will better co-ordinate their efforts. This model has worked successfully in counter-terrorism where there is a national co-ordinator in the Metropolitan Police who draws on teams based in forces around the UK. Policing is devolved in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The NCA is expected to have some kind of responsibilities with bodies in those parts of the UK - but the exact relationship and jurisdiction remains to be decided.

Ministers have considered but ruled out two alternatives to the NCA.

The first would have been mergers to create regional police forces, which would have met local opposition. The other would have been to "top slice" the existing 43 forces to create a British version of the FBI, which is often criticised for being too far removed from local intelligence.

Flowchart of police structure

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