MP sees 'thin blue line' for himself

T&A - Shipley Conservative MP Philip Davies says there are five policing issues that Home Secretary John Reid urgently needs to consider.

Bradford Telegraph & Argus

Jim Greenhalf

Philip Davies has spent 22 days watching the various parts of West Yorkshire Police at work.

The day before Shipley's Conservative MP met me to talk about his experiences, he had been at Wakefield with the Scientific Support Unit - the British version of CSI in the United States.

He said: "It's been an absolute eye-opener, probably the best thing I have ever done. The police were very open. I made it clear that I was coming in to learn about the service - warts and all. They were open and receptive. Colin Cramphorn, the late chief constable, said I was the only West Yorkshire MP who had ever done that."

One of the reasons why Mr Davies enthusiastically took advantage of the Parliamentary Police Scheme, which allows any MP to spend a minimum of 22 days working with their local force, was because crime always comes out as the issue about which his constituents express most concern.

A wide-ranging talk he gave on the subject to Baildon Men's Forum during the Christmas holidays attracted a lunchtime audience of about 70.

Advertisement continued..."Expectations of the police are greater than on other organisations. A police officer will tell you that his job is to enforce the law, not decide which laws are good and which are bad. I am sure a load of laws could be scrapped from the statute book.

"The police are put in a very difficult position. West Yorkshire Police has a £15m shortfall in its budget. Nobody disputes that. The police are having to choose between keeping open police stations and putting more officers on the beat. The number of stations in Shipley has been halved. I don't think officers should be stopping people who aren't wearing a seat belt, with all the other crime going on," he said.

From his experiences watching the police at work, Mr Davies has outlined five areas of concern.

l Ineffective sentencing by magistrates and judges.

"Many officers told me that removing ten particular people from the streets would reduce crime in my Keighley Division by half; taking 20 people out would cut crime by 90 per cent. Yet this small number of persistent offenders are forever bailed and given pathetic jail sentences. On one occasion I witnessed a court bail the same person to two separate addresses!"

l Cases being tested by the Crown Prosecution Service instead of tried by a court of law.

"There is a clear feeling that the CPS will not proceed unless it is almost certain to result in a successful conviction. They should allow more cases to be tested in court and allow juries to take some of these decisions rather than lawyers acting as the jury themselves."

l Protracted delays inside police stations.

"Custody sergeants are so scared of anything happening to a prisoner in their custody, the waiting time - four hours is not uncommon - pales into insignificance. The Home Office should invest in creating extra capacity at all custody desks to eliminate these queues."

l Officers afraid to take decisions because they are obliged to service the system rather than serve the law.

"There is a debilitating risk-aversion culture with the police, an unwritten and unspoken rule that it is better to avoid making a bad decision than it is to make a good one. Officers of all ranks are so petrified of this they would rather waste any amount of resource or time to ensure that nothing can go wrong and that their backs are covered. This has to stop."

l Too much bureaucracy.

"Whatever a police officer does there appears to be a form to fill in afterwards. There range from a form for stopping somebody to the 19 pages when a missing person is reported. There needs to be a root and branch analysis of all forms, a simplification of some and a bonfire of others."

Before winning Shipley from Labour's Chris Leslie at the 2005 General Election, Mr Davies worked for 11 years for Asda, latterly as a senior marketing manager.

He said: "I believed that the people best placed to know what we should do to improve our performance as a company were the people who worked in our stores.

"Therefore I also firmly believe that the people who are best placed to know what we should do to tackle crime are the people who are dealing with it every day - police officers.

"There have been 54 Criminal Justice Acts in nine years. Parliament is packed with lawyers. Debates on crime can look like a lawyers' dinner party. What we lack is a police perspective. We are not going to tackle crime until we get an effective police perspective on dealing with it.

"It is extremely frustrating to me that, instead, we have to endure a lawyers' intellectual perspective on human rights."

Going behind the scenes soon showed him one glaring structural weakness: the police service is a top-down organisation in which the Home Secretary tells chief constables the criteria on which they will be measured. These priorities are then relayed down the chain of command to divisional commanders.

"It would be better for the police officers on patrol to be the kings and queens of the organisation, feeding up issues they are facing and what would help deal with them. This would lead to the Home Secretary consulting with the police on what barriers needed to be removed.

"Politicians should stop pretending they know everything about everything and accept that they should merely deliver the tools for the experts to get on with the job," he added.