Cops out the bag


"The British Policing Model is built upon the twin foundation of operational independence and local accountability." So said Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), but his organization proves to be a little more challenging when it comes to transparency and accountability.

As from October of this year, this publicly-funded private ‘‘club” (it is a not-for-profit private company, limited by guarantee) will be included in the Freedom of Information Act. Or will it? There remain serious legal obstacles. The FoIA only covers public authorities, which ACPO is not. But therein lies the point.

ACPO is a private company (nothing wrong with that per se – far from it) but it behaves and is treated like a public authority. It has the badge of a police force and its President is styled, and wears the uniform of, a Chief Constable. Before 1997, ACPO was, indeed, little more than a private club but then New Labour struck a deal with it and the Home Office has been funding it ever since.

Last year the Mail on Sunday revealed that ACPO earns £18 million a year, funded by £32 million of public money every two. Even under New Labour, alarm bells were ringing (following the Mail’s revelations) that ACPO was getting out of hand. Where the money was going and where it was coming from?

And ACPO is said to have been the driving force behind much of New Labour’s authoritarian policing regime.

As an association, ACPO claim to provide invaluable guidance for forces, providing the country with such initiatives as the ‘Community Safety Accreditation Scheme’. The purpose of this particular scheme (which is one of dozens) is to, ‘assist forces in introducing CSAS, thereby reducing the need for individual forces to develop their own policies… The guidance is not prescriptive and forces may diverge from it on points of detail. They should, however, have clear reason for doing so.’

So where does all this cash go? Between 2006 and 2009, the public funded the £515,000 ‘Park Mark Safer Parking’, a scheme that ensures “safer environments” are “created” in car pars throughout the country through police vetting. More useful perhaps was the £16 million payout to set up Regional Intelligence Units, which purport to give ‘meaningful’ intelligence maps of organized crime groups – a high-tech spying device.

It would seem that the Home Office are doling out public money to a private group of glorified cops. They were the backing behind the 2008 notion to equip police officers with 10,000 Taser guns, and rather than “acting as a voice” for the force, they increasingly seem to be shouting out over the public. Whilst each force becomes a replicating machine for these ill-posed and ill-defined schemes, the public unknowingly funds them.

But, even subject to the FoIA, ACPO will not be properly accountable. If it were a public authority, it would also be subject to the Human Rights Act (for all its faults), some form of democratic accountability, and a complaints procedure, as a police force is.

Could ACPO usefully get the chop in these cash-strapped times? Would British policing be worse off without it? Well, if we are opposed to all forms of central planning as a matter of principle, the answer must be a resounding “cut it!”