Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Police paperwork cuts - believe it when you see them

Policecar The Telegraph reports on a leaked draft of a report that will call for significant cuts in police paperwork:

"An official review by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of constabulary, says police have become ''slaves'' to rules and regulations and are ''strait-jacketed by process". His report was delivered to the Home Office on Tuesday night and a leaked draft shows ministers are preparing to publish plans for reducing the paperwork that has overwhelmed the police in recent years.

They will include abolishing the ''stop and account'' form that takes 10 minutes to fill in. Instead officers should hand a business card or something similar to the person they have stopped ''as a record of the encounter''.

Personal details of anybody they stop and search could be logged on hand-held computers and sent directly to the police data bank.

Sir Ronnie says his ideas could save up to six million hours of police work a year."

Sounds like pretty good news, doesn't it?

We'll believe it when we see it. So long as the police are accountable to politicians in Whitehall rather than the people in their local communities there will be a powerful incentive for them to engage in bureaucratic box-ticking. Creating a statistical illusion of activity to keep politicians happy rather than deterring and combatting crime. We might well find that abolishing the stop and account form just gives police officers more time to spend pursuing nonsense cases to keep their numbers up - see PC David Copperfield's book Wasting Police Time for more details of how that fudge works.

One warning sign that the report might not be quite as revolutionary as it sounds is the claim that it will "free 3,000 officers for front-line patrol duties". That would certainly be good news but there are 140,500 officers across the country. There is also evidence that time is being wasted on a massive scale at the moment, last year the Telegraph reported that only around 13 per cent of officer time was spent patrolling the streets while 20 per cent was spent on paperwork:

"In 2006/2007, the average police officer in England and Wales - including beat Pcs, traffic officers and detectives - was out on the streets for 13.6 per cent of their time, while paperwork accounted for 19.7 per cent, with 11.4 per cent of that taken up with "incident-related" forms.

The balance has deteriorated since 2004/2005, when patrol time was 15.3 per cent and paperwork was 18.4 per cent, including 9.9 per cent spent on incident-related bureaucracy."

If you cut the amount of time spent on paperwork in half - 10 per cent of their day is still a lot of time for form-filling - you could save 10 per cent of total police time. That would be the equivalent of freeing 14,050 full-time officers for front-line patrol duties. Hopefully when we see the final version of Flanagan's report it will be that ambitious.

Photo by Flickr User hugovk used under a Creative Commons License.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

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