West Midlands Police forces face a major shake-up as part of proposals for the number of forces to be slashed by more than half. But will combating terrorism come at a cost to the local bobby on the beat? Helen Gabriel reports...
Police forces in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and West Mercia are pondering their futures after an official review warned smaller police forces were unfit to meet the challenges posed by organised crime and terrorism.
All three face the prospect of being merged or replaced in a major revamp, which Home Secretary Charles Clarke said could see the existing 43 forces reduced to just 20.
But some fear the changes may come at a cost to local services.
According to a report by Her Majesty?s Inspectorate of Constabulary, forces with more than 4,000 officers tend to be far more successful.
But Warwickshire Police employs just 1,012, Staffordshire Police employs 2,309 and West Mercia Police, which covers Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, employs 2,380. While West Midlands Police employs 8,154 officers, it could still be affected by the changes if it is asked to merge with another force.
Mr Clarke told the Police Superintendents? Association conference in Warwickshire this week that he wanted to see forces coming up with firm plans as quickly as possible, but he assured them he was not considering the possibility of a national police force.
He has asked police authorities and chief constables to come up with proposals for restructuring as soon as possible.
John Burbeck, Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, said the future must include strong neighbourhood policing teams.
He said: ?In whatever changes are necessary we need to take into account the needs of our local communities and those of our staff. It is essential that the new policing arrangements build on all those aspects of policing we already have, so that we can create greater capability to tackle cross-border criminality and major incidents.?
However, he defended the Home Secretary?s decision, adding: ?I strongly support the need to create strategic forces with the capability to successfully tackle organised crime, major inquiries, and critical incidents.?
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But Phil Blundell, chairman of Warwickshire Police Authority, admitted there were concerns about the impact the changes would have on local policing.
He said: ?Policing in Warwickshire is owned by local people, and they know who their local bobbies are.
?One of the fears is that this will be another service lost to a big amorphous centre.?
Warwickshire County councillor Richard Hobbs, portfolio holder for community safety, said: ?We realise that Warwickshire Police is a comparatively small force but that should not be a criterion for amalgamation.
?We feel that the make-up of the county needs a particular kind of policing, one where the officers are familiar with the area and its own particular issues. We will fight to make sure that this is the kind of policing that Warwickshire?s residents receive.?
Staffordshire Chief Constable John Giffard, who has been asked by the Home Secretary to lead a national working group to look at implementing the reforms set out by HMIC, denied that there would be any negative impact on the region?s neighbourhood policing. He said: ?I would like to reemphasise the Home Secretary?s view that the current divisional neighbourhood policing structure we have in Staffordshire will remain unchanged.? He has been asked to report to the Home Secretary within three months.
Mike Poulter, chairman of Staffordshire Police Authority said: ? We have been recognised as a high-achieving force, performing above expectation in terms of tackling level two crime [organised crime and terrorism].
?Our approach to neighbourhood policing is also recognised and this will be further enhanced when we deploy hundreds of extra Police Community Support Officers and create neighbourhood policing teams.?
He said that while Staffordshire Police was performing above expectation in tackling major problems some smaller forces had been unable to respond as effectively.
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