Police chief wants to slash red tape

Norfolk's police chief last night declared war on bureaucracy as he bids to free-up hours of time spent on unnecessary paperwork and commit more officers to frontline duties.

Norfolk's police chief last night declared war on bureaucracy as he bids to free-up hours of time spent on unnecessary paperwork and commit more officers to frontline duties.

Chief constable Ian McPherson has made slashing red-tape one of his top priorities since taking up the post at the start of this year and has appointed a taskforce to review the mounds of forms officers must wade through on a daily basis.

If successful the shake-up, led by Chf Supt Alan Hayes, will allow communities to dictate what their local bobbies do with the extra time - be it more high visibility patrols, hands on community work or tackling crime behind the scenes.

It is estimated 800 different forms are in circulation within the force and Norfolk Police Federation, which represents the rank and file, said many must be completed but are never used. The federation welcomed the initiative but warned the police can only do so much and ministers must also do their bit to reduce the burden.

Mr McPherson said: “Norfolk police is charting a path towards being a customer-focused organisation that improves its service yet drives down costs.

“Although we have made inroads - establishing safer neighbourhood teams is an excellent example - there is still much to do. It's about delivering what the public wants and not what we think they want.”

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He added that the force needs to focus on increasing public satisfaction and confidence. At present, although crime levels in Norfolk are relatively low, residents' fear of crime remains an issue. Mr McPherson believes this can be tackled by allowing the public to set their own priorities.

“Paperwork and bureaucracy are issues we have been actively looking at as we don't want to unnecessarily burden our frontline staff. We need them to spend their most productive time engaging with the public,” he said.

“We expect to complete our data collection later this year. That will be carefully analysed and considered. Any changes in the way we police in the future will be based on fact - not intuition.”

The project is part of a wide-ranging review aimed at modernising the force. Other areas that are currently being investigated are ways in which Norfolk can share resources with other local authorities and how technology can be put to better use.

One possibility is equipping officers with laptops so they can spend more time out on the road rather than inside stations.

Nationally the cost of police paperwork rose to more than £600m last year, far outstripping the combined amount spent on tackling robberies and burglaries .

The money funds officers and civilian staff completing forms, writing letters and sending memos. It also pays for supervisors to ensure that paperwork has been completed correctly.

Norfolk's annual £130m policing budget is under increasing pressure with ministers warning earlier this year that a decade's worth of “unprecedented investment” had reached an end. Bosses have already increased council tax beyond the government's acceptable level and accept they must make better use of the resources already at their disposal.

Although not primarily a cost-cutting measure, the police federation said the review could ultimately save money as officers are forced to work overtime to complete paperwork before ending their shifts.

David Benfield, federation secretary, said that on top of filling out unused forms, there are many other unreasonable requirements such as copying out an individuals name and address repeatedly on the same form.

An arrest for even the most straightforward of crimes can lead to almost half-a-day's worth of form-filling and it currently takes several hours simply to obtain the paperwork required to carry out observation work.

“I would support anything that this organisation can do to reduce bureaucracy and am pleased that the chief and his senior officers see that it is a problem,” said Mr Benfield.

“But until the government makes a concerted effort to get to grips with this the force's hands will, to some extent, remain tied.

“Inroads have been made in Norfolk - mainly by employing civilian staff - but more needs to be done. This is something we were saying a decade ago when I was on the frontline and it has got progressively worse.”

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