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Police and fire services move closer under proposed new law

Police and fire services move closer under proposed new law

🕔24.Feb 2016

A wide-ranging Policing and Crime Bill which has been presented to Parliament will pave the way for police commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and ambulance services.

For the first time a duty will be placed on police, fire and ambulance services to collaborate, but only if a business case can be made locally for amalgamation.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, who says he is “agnostic” about any benefits likely to flow from the proposal, has been talking to fire and rescue services about combining back office functions with the police.

Earlier in the year Police Minister Mike Penning told MPs that discussions to sort out “an appropriate relationship between the functions of a mayor and future role of the police and crime commissioners including in relation to fire services” were taking place in the West Midlands.

Mr Penning added: “This is about smarter working, reducing the cost of back office functions and freeing up the time of frontline staff and will deliver significant savings and benefits for the public”.

According to the Home Office, the Policing and Crime Bill will improve the democratic accountability of police forces, and fire and rescue services, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency services through closer collaboration and build public confidence in policing.

The main provisions of the Bill will:

  • Place a duty on police, fire and ambulance services to collaborate and enable Police and Crime Commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services, where a local case is made.
  • Reform the police disciplinary and complaints systems to ensure that the public have confidence in their ability to hold the police to account, and that police officers will uphold the highest standards of integrity.
  • Better enable chief officers to make the most efficient and effective use of their workforce by giving them the flexibility to confer a wider range of powers on police staff and volunteers – whilst for the first time specifying a core list of powers that may only be exercised by warranted police officers.
  • Reform pre-charge bail to put a stop to people remaining on bail for lengthy periods with no independent judicial scrutiny of its continued necessity.
  • Stop children and young people under 18 experiencing a mental health crisis being detained in police custody – and restricting the circumstances when adults can be taken to police stations.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

The Policing and Crime Bill aims to finish the job of police reform by freeing up police time, ensuring forces have the right people and skills to cope with the changing nature of crime, increasing public confidence in the police, and overhauling the police complaints and disciplinary systems to increase accountability, ensuring cases are dealt with quickly and effectively.

The reforms will continue this progress by supporting dedicated police officers in delivering the best service possible and continuing to enhance the public’s confidence in their local force.

The Bill also contains provisions which will:

  • Strengthen the independence of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and ensure that it is able to deliver end-to-end inspections of the police.
  • Strengthen the accountability and transparency of the Police Federation for England and Wales by extending its core purpose to cover the public interest and making it subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
  • Amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), including to ensure that 17-year-olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes, and to facilitate the increased use of video link technology.
  • Amend the Firearms Acts to better protect the public by closing loopholes that can be exploited by criminals and terrorists, and by ensuring through statutory guidance that there is a robust process for assessing suitability to hold a firearms licence or shotgun certificate.
  • Confer on the police and immigration officers a power to require an arrested person to state their nationality and to require suspected foreign nationals to produce a nationality document within a specified period following arrest and create a new offence for a failure to comply without reasonable excuse.

Mr Jamieson described the Bill as “a mixed bag that addresses many concerns I have while not going far enough on others”. He added:

I welcome the closing of the loopholes in relation to firearms licensing and antique weapons. This is an area that has needed reform for some time.

The reforms on complaints are a step in the right direction. It is important that officers who abuse their position should be held to account and disciplined if a dereliction of duty has been committed.

I am pleased that the Policing and Crime bill gives Police staff potentially more responsibilities and powers to fight crime. This is something that police staff has long wished for and it is encouraging that the Home Secretary recognises the pivotal role of police staff in preventing crime, ensuring that the people of West Midlands have an effective and accountable police service and protecting our communities.

I welcome the Bill’s intent to ensure that people with mental health needs get the right support.  Here in the West Midlands we have already radically reduced the use of police cells for people facing mental health crisis, and thanks to our joint mental health triage with the NHS, we are seeing fewer and fewer people detained because they have mental health needs.

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