British policing is creaking under the weight of “well-intended bureaucracy”, a police watchdog has said.
Sir Denis O’Connor said officers are bogged down in an overly-cautious approach which discourages them from making decisions. He said the public simply want to see the “lesser spotted constable”, but officers have been pulled off the beat to meet guidelines.
The Chief Inspector of Constabulary said a moratorium on publishing new guidance must be made permanent with a radical change of tactics.
Addressing the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) annual conference, Sir Denis said discretion must be handed back to officers.
He criticised “telephone directory” manuals, many of which do not have summaries, and said they could be replaced by accessible software applications such as those on an iPhone.
Sir Denis said: “The truth is they are not going to do much of all of this because it’s impossible to absorb it.
“You’d need a Lancaster bomber to deliver it all to people. Instead you need to get back to a common sense basis. People do want to see the lesser spotted constable, they really do,” said Sir Denis. “Quite a few forces have been taking constables away. The more of this stuff there is the less of them there are going to be.”
Sir Denis singled out guidance on cycling, policing public sex sites, stopping motorcycle riders from crashing, dealing with extra housing and using handcuffs.
The watchdog warned that police cannot keep up with public expectation of what they can do to minimise risk and guidelines have created an unrealistic burden. He said senior officers must turn the financial crisis to their advantage by implementing widescale reform that hands power and discretion back to the frontline.
Delegates in Manchester heard at least 4,000 new pledges were in some 52 documents containing 2,615 pages published last year and at least 60 more are in the pipeline. Sir Denis said current guidance documents contain 6,497 pages, three times higher than the Eiffel tower if laid end to end, while the original 1829 police handbook contained just 52.