Police Force Mergers Aren’t a Good Idea?

I have to admit, I am one of those who has been a strong advocate for police mergers in the past (see here), I mostly still am. The recent changes to a National Force in Scotland, in my opinion, could be also replicated south of the border (see here). However; Bernard Rix,  who has more than 20 years of consulting experience, with an emphasis on public sector, particularly in the police and criminal justice arena, suggests otherwise…

Sixteen reasons why “fewer forces” may not be the right answer: It seems that many working in, or with an interest in policing seem to believe that there’s merit in reducing the number of police forces. I disagree, and appear to be in the minority in holding this view. Here are my first sixteen high-level reasons why I feel that “fewer police forces” might not be the right answer…(Read More)

I still say there are many reasons to work on standardisation of process, equipment and administrative functions. British Policing, in many ways, is still a crime in progress. Also (in many situations), there needs to be far greater seamless interoperability in cross border incidents.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Police Force Mergers Aren’t a Good Idea?

  1. Well said Steve,
    You answered many of the points I had neither the time nor ability to address from my mobile!
    I’m still convinced there IS scope for mergers, sorry Bernard.


  2. Agree with you Dave. Sorry Bernard, but I can’t see a strong enough point among the 16 to remotely persuade my thinking…

    1. Having “fewer forces” further distances the most senior police officers from those working with local communities… Let’s be brutally honest here, the higher the rank the further they are away from real contact with the local community.
    2. … making it harder for the top team to appreciate and engage with the particular policing and community safety challeges that local communities experience. Why should this be the exclusive domain of a “Top Team?” The lower and middle ranks should be endowed with sufficient common sense and intelligence to deal with these challenges.
    3. “Fewer forces” means concentrating power in the hands of fewer Chief Constables… Quite right. Yes this requires even greater selection criteria, but this would be expected.
    4. … who would probably expect to be titled “Commissioner” (or similar) rather than “Chief Constable”… Where’s the problem?
    5. … and who would require paying at a higher level than current Chief Constables. Again, where’s the problem? Fewer of them albeit on more money still represents a great opportunity for savings.
    6. This would add to (rather than reduce) the numbers (and cost) of the most senior officers, thus increasing (rather than reducing) overall cost…
    How can this be? Fewer forces means fewer Chiefs. There would be no need to increase the support hierarchy, in fact they could be reduced also, with greater responsibility and pay.
    7. There are anyway relatively few areas where the natural primary operational policing “unit” is “national”… If we keep doing what we always did, we’ll keep getting what we always got. A national or regional composition doesn’t mean that the rank and file lose all their abilities to police on a local level.
    8. … and most areas where the natural policing unit is “national” already have (or will shortly have) national provision (e.g. National Crime Agency). They will have this in addition to merged areas, again where is the problem?
    9. It’s perfectly possible for forces to collaborate (or merge or outsource) in areas that make sense (i.e. have a well-constructed business case), without having to pursue the option of combining everything the force does. Perfectly possible? Then why have those few who are doing so now taken so many years to be dragged screaming and kicking into reality?
    10. There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen – happy to be corrected) from the last set of force mergers (mid-1970s) that these mergers work… half hearted measures with little or no Government support for the concept is hardly a strong enough reason to discount the idea going forward.
    11. … indeed, many police officers I met who were serving at the time of these force mergers felt primary affinity to their original force throughout the remainder of their police service. Of course they would, and this will pervade with any changes that might be implemented. Police culture needs to change in so many areas, and this is one of them. Natural wastage by retirement at full service would see the eventual acceptance by those who join the new organisational structure.
    12. The larger the force, the harder to hold the Chief Constable (or Commissioner) to account. WHY? The codes of conduct and performance should be written to accomodate this.
    13. Community safety funding and policing inequalities are easier for government and forces to hide, the smaller the number of forces (as forces themselves are larger, covering more communities from a single pot of money). I’m sorry but this one just doesn’t wash. Fudging of crime statistics across 43 police forces over the last 20 or so years is evidence enough that if there is a will to conceal they will find a way. The answer must be to be as smart as they are, thinking ahead to all the possible corners that can be cut and removing the opportunities.
    14. There’s a cost to pay in changing the number of forces, which would need to be recouped by delivery of greater savings from the change. And why would this not be possible? In fact it should be expected. Unlike PCC’s which have overspent in comparison to their predecessor authorities, larger units must deliver greater savings in terms of bulk purchasing of equipment, reduced administrative staff, fewer albeit larger buildings etc etc
    15. Creating larger forces could undermine collaborative and partnership working between police and the many other agencies and bodies with an interest in community safety. WHY IN HEAVENS NAME SHOULD IT? The community/members of the public do not care what cap badge the officer wears, whether they’re from Northants or Beds, Staffs or West Mids, all they want is to collaborate with police officers based locally. bacause the force is part of a regional outfit there is no good reason why it should lose its local working arrangements.
    16. Merging forces distracts senior officers and staff from the “day job” of policing. Let’s be real about this. The real day jobs of policing are done by the rank and file. The stark reality is that other than for pr purposes, senior officers rarely touch anything remotely close to being called “day job”. Their day job comprises statistics and logistics, despite Mrs Mays’ instructions to scrap targets, the culture is as dominant as ever.

    As Lord Geoffrey Dear wrote in the Times, the service desperately needs real leaders now, not mere overpaid managers who are two-a-penny but cost the earth.

    No Bernard, I’m afraid I’m not convinced. Fewer forces with stronger real leadership qualities. Many of the concerns you voice would disappear with the right number and quality of leaders. This is the difference between doing the right thing and doing the thing right. At the moment, so many are doing the wrong things well, but not doing nearly enough of the right things in the first place.


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