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The shape of the futureStephen Savage & David O'Dowd CBE, QPM, BA, MSc, CIMgtPublished online: 13 Mar 2008.
To cite this article: Stephen Savage & David O'Dowd CBE, QPM, BA, MSc, CIMgt (1998) The shape ofthe future, Criminal Justice Matters, 32:1, 4-7, DOI: 10.1080/09627259808552744
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s s I think my Association* * (ACPO) has got to stop
putting its head in the sand aboutthe size of forces..,, for too long wehave been saying no amal-gamations at any price... there'sgot to be some way in which weface the reality - small is notbeautiful. % %
The shape ofthe future
Stephen Savage considers thechanging geography of policegovernance.
The political geography of Britishpolicing is in flux. The establishedstructure of the British policeservice, based upon 43, oftenfiercely independent, police forces(with another eight for Scotland)is under challenge. The quotationabove comes from a chiefconstable of a middle-sized forcein England who, in response to aquery about the future of Britishpolicing1, predicted a significantchange to the existing geographyof policing in England and Wales.The spectre of continuingcentralisation and, perhaps of moreimportance, regionalisation, seemsto loom large.
As debate about the future ofBritish policing continues2, it isinteresting to speculate about thefuture geography of police govern-ance in Britain and the impact ofpossible structural reconfigurationof the police service nation-wide.How pervasive are the forces ofcentralisation and/or regional-isation? What threats do theypresent? How might the emergentsupra-local structure of policing,national and regional, articulatewith present arrangements for po-lice accountability? What will be-come of that sacred cow of Britishpolicing, the principle of 'con-stabulary independence"! I willconsider these questions against
"There's got to be some way in which weface the reality - small is not beautiful."
the backcloth of both centralisationand regionalisation.
The onward march ofcentralisation?The view that British policing hasbeen undergoing a process ofcentralisation, with a consequentdiminution of its 'local' tradition,now has the status of a truism inpolice studies discourse3.
On top of longer termcentralising developments, such asthe growing influence of HerMajesty's Inspectorate ofConstabulary and the growinginfluence of the Association ofChief Police Officers (but seebelow), has come the Police amiMagistrates' Courts Act 1994(PMCA), with its nationalobjectives for policing and the newtypes of police authority, heraldingfor some the final nail in the coffinof local policing - theestablishment of an effective 'statepolice'. Alongside the PMC A, arange of national police agencieshas been created, the NationalCriminal Intelligence Service(NCIS), the National Crime Squadand the National Directorate ofPolice Training.
All of this might seem to pointto what Simon Jenkins has calledthe 'nationalisation' of a once localpublic service4. What is more,almost without exception, theprocess of centralisation has beenpresented in a negative light - inthe zero-sum game, the growth ofcentral influence and power hasbeen at the expense of localcontrols and influence overpolicing. This is despite the factthat, prior to these developments,there was little evidence ofcommentators celebrating theeffectiveness of local policeaccountability under the previoussystem. But is it possible that the'centralisation thesis' has beenoverstated? There are someimportant counter-arguments.
Firstly, it has become apparentthat the twin 'evils' of PMCA, thenational police objectives and thenewly constituted police authori-ties, might not be the subversive,counter-democratic, forces theywere feared to be. As Trevor Jonesand Tim Newburn have argued5,the potential for increased centralinfluence contained within the na-tional police objectives has not, todate, been apparent in the objec-tives themselves. These have, sofar, been uncontentious and fur-
thermore were drawn up only af-ter close consultations with bod-ies outside of central governmentitself - the local authority associa-tions, ACPO and so on. Jones andNewburn have also argued, on thebasis of their research, that the newpolice authorities are, in somecases, more assertive than theirmore 'democratic' predecessors.
ACPO researchResearch undertaken by myself,Sarah Charman and Stephen Copeon the role of ACPO reinforces thatview. Many ACPO officers we in-terviewed stated that some of themembers of the new police au-thorities, particularly the 'inde-pendent' members, were morechallenging and interventionistthan those they had experienced inthe past. Local policing plans, aseach year passes, may more andmore reflect local influence andpriorities. While a centralisingmachinery certainly is in place,countervailing mechanisms mayalso be at work.
Secondly, some of the morerecent 'centralising' developmentshave institutionalised newaccountability mechanisms whichmay help disperse, rather thanconcentrate, influence overdecision-making. The new national'thematic' agencies such as NCISare to be accountable to 'serviceauthorities', bodies representingthe major 'stakeholders' in nationalpolicing policy, with a statutoryresponsibility for ensuring theeffectiveness and efficiency of theagency in question. One feature ofthe service authorities is theconstitutional status granted torepresentatives of local policeauthorities - nine of the seventeenmembers are selected by theAssociation of Police Authorities.Only one member of the serviceauthority is a Home Officerepresentative.
There is of course the dangerthat the service authorities will be'toothless tigers' and that back-stage agendas will dictate events.However, the framework theycreate is one which establishes amore formal involvement ofrepresentatives of local authoritiesin consultation over policingpolicy on a national level than wasthe case before. In time this maylead to a net increase in the extentof influence exerted by locally-based organisations over
CJITl no. 32 Summer 1998
nationally-based policingactivities. There has been littlescope for that in the past.
Thirdly, one furthercountervailing force to thecentralisation process lies withinACPO itself. Commentators havetypically viewed the growinginfluence of ACPO as one furtherdimension in the process ofcentralisation*. However, as wehave argued elsewhere7, it is alsopossible to see the strengtheningof ACPO as one means of resistingcentral control and
'nationalisation'. In a sense, themore effective ACPO becomes ininfluencing its membership, themore it can persuade its constituentforces to toe a 'party line' onpolicing policy and followcommon policies, the weaker thecase for replacing the currentstructure of 43 separate forces witha national police force. As one ofour respondents put it:
"/ see (ACPO) as being theonly sensible counter to a nationalpolice service and I see it as anecessary bulwark against over-centralisation."
In effect, this is to say that theconcentration of power withinACPO acts as a counter-weight tothe concentration of power withincentral government. So be it.However, we should not feeltotally comfortable with this. Towhom is ACPO accountable? Weknow that as a body ACPO has noformal status within anaccountability relationship, yet itsnational influence over policing
policy is substantial. Perhaps theestablishment of a serviceauthority, or something similar, forACPO itself, again containingrepresentatives of the local policeauthorities, would be one way offurther dispersing power andinfluence down the line to the locallevel. The 'tripartite* structure,chief constable, Home Office,local authority, has never been asadequately reflected at nationallevel as it has at force level; aservice authority for ACPO wouldin part address that problem.
Taking these points together itshould be apparent that the"centralisation thesis' can beoverstated, or at leastoversimplified. Countervailingtendencies are apparent within thegeography of police governance;the uni-directional model of everincreasing centralisation ofgovernance is in need ofqualification. One further reasonfor this is emergence of anothersupra-local level of policegovernance: regionalisation.
Towards regionalgovernance?Whereas much attention has beengiven to the centralisation of po-licing and police governance, lit-tle has been given to what may be-come a much more significant de-velopment in the geography ofpolice governance, theregionalisation of policing in Brit-ain. This should not be equatedwith or seen as necessarily consist-
ent with, centralisation.Stronger regional governancecan mean weaker centralisedgovernance. There are pow-erful indications that the drifttowards regional policing isan emerging feature of thelandscape of policing.
Our research on ACPOincluded a 'futures*dimension. We asked asample of ACPO'smembership (41 in total)what they saw as the mostlikely shape of Britishpolicing as it moved into thenew millennium. Over half ofthose interviewed anticipatedthat regionalisation would beone likely or possible featureof the policing map in the nottoo distant future. Onemember put it boldly:
"In the year 2010 Iwouldn 't be surprised if wehave got W regions, a boss
in charge of each region and a bossin charge of each force."
In most cases, the emergenceof regionalisation was associatedwith force amalgamations,something, of course, alreadypotent within PMCA. Talk of forceamalgamations, of course, is notnew. There have been suspicions,for example, that plans had beendrawn up by HMIC in the late1980s for a reduction in thenumber of forces from 43 to 20 orso forces. However, the 'regionalagenda' is about more than thecoupling of forces this way. As thequotation above indicates, it is alsoabout an additional tier ofgovernance over and above thatoperating at police authority level- a supra-local tier. Ironically, thismay be made more likely becauseof the strengthening of governanceat the 'micro-' level of policing.The rise of 'geographic policing'or 'basic command units' (BCUs)has, in concentrating more powerat the local level, created scope fornew forms of governance at theregional level. These relativelyself-contained policing units,equivalent in size to the old policesub-divisions, have become theaccepted basis for the localdelivery of policing servicesvirtually across the country. Giventhat the BCUs involve managerialresponsibilities which have beendevolved from force headquarters.
the necessity for a fully equippedcentral service for each and everyforce along present models isdiminished: localisation of policemanagement opens the door to thereduction in the number of forceheadquarters and, in turn to theregionalisation of policing.
The regional agenda,following this logic, is thereforedriven in part by the resource-case.Under the ConservativeGovernment, interest in possibleregionalisation was linked to thepursuit of economies of scale andrationalisation or resources.However, an additional thrust hasnow been provided by the politicalpush for regionalisation underLabour in the form of regionalassemblies and devolution. Theidea of a 'Welsh police force' or a'South-East police force' is not afanciful one. This might notinvolve the disappearance of theexisting police authorityboundaries - after all, theGovernment plans to reform theCrown Prosecution Service alongexactly these lines. It wouldinvolve, however, new forms ofgovernance and require newmechanisms for accountabilityand, not least, new forms of powersharing.
ConstabularyindependenceThe ramifications of the process ofregionalisation would stretch farand wide. One area of particularinterest would be the status of thesacred principle of constabularyindependence. Attempts to extendthe influence of local bodiesoutside of policing over policingpolicy have in the past beenrebutted on the grounds that theywould 'conflict with the chiefofficers' independence*. EvenACPO's activities and attempts tobring its members into line havebeen resisted on this basis. Fewdare to even appear to tread in thisarea, not even the Home Office.
Perhaps it is time to look atconstabulary independence less asa sacred principle guiding policingand more as a form of seniorofficer discourse, to see thediscourse of 'independence' as ameans of defending space. Thatdiscourse has had substantialpower as a buttress against
"The idea of a 'Welsh police force' is nota fanciful one."
CJm no. 32 Summer 1998
interference with the autonomy ofchief officers to make decisionsconcerning their forces. In otherwords, independence is invoked tomaintain the managerial closureand control of the chief, againstincursions from outside bodies.The growth of regionalisation willinevitably challenge that discourse.Regionally-based policies anddecisions would force chiefconstables to accept interferencefrom 'above' in a...