Six-county police force plan revealed

THE creation of a police “super force” covering six counties is being considered by Chief Constables in East Anglia, it has emerged.Such a force would serve nearly 5 million people and replace county constabularies in the region.

THE creation of a police “super force” covering six counties is being considered by Chief Constables in East Anglia, it has emerged.

Such a force would serve nearly 5 million people and replace county constabularies in the region.

But the very idea of merging six forces - Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire - yesterday sparked warnings over “poorer policing” and a loss of “local affinity” between the police and the people they serve by MPs.

Chief Constables from across the eastern region met on Thursday to investigate three options for the future of policing, it has been revealed.

The region's top officers now have just over eight weeks to decide which option they want most before submitting that choice to the Home Office - which is demanding a shake-up in the current force structure.

Each of the options agreed for further investigation on Thursday will now be subjected to close scrutiny before a preferred model for the future of policing in the area is chosen.

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One of the options would involve establishing what the chief police officers are calling a “super force” covering the six counties and containing more than 10,000 officers.

A police force of that scale would span 18,518 sq km, include 4.8 million inhabitants and cover a region with an economy worth £69.3 billion a year.

The creation of a “super force” could mean fewer police officers per 1,000 people in Essex but more in Suffolk.

In Essex, there are currently 2.4 police officers per 1,000 people. This number could drop to 2.2 per 1,000 people under the “super force” proposal, assuming all officers were pooled and staffing levels did not change. In Suffolk, there are presently 1.9 police officers per 1,000 people. This would rise by 0.3 of an officer under the “super force” option.

The second option examined was a “North-South divide”, which would see Beds, Herts and Essex merge into one force, and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambs into another.

The final option would see an “East-West divide” - Beds, Cambs and Herts joining together, and Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk forming another force.

Suffolk's Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said last night: “Bearing in mind the tight timescales we are working to, the key to the debate was the need for us to try and find consensus on the way forward, rather than us all expending a lot of energy with each force exploring multiple options for the future.”

Robert Chambers, chairman of Essex Police Authority, said: “I would stress that these are just the options that the eastern region jointly agreed to focus on at this stage. Obviously individual forces and authorities are free to examine any other options. We are only at the start of the process to discover the shape of policing in this region in the future.”

Sue Kelly, Essex chairman of the Police Federation, said: “A superforce with 10,000 police officers and 7,000 staff would be, well, interesting. My crystal ball is out on loan at the moment and, while we could speculate forever, it is a little pointless until the Home Office come up with what they actually want to.”

The reason for the review of the police structure in the eastern region is that it forms part of a wider project to overhaul policing across the UK, currently being overseen by the Home Office.

But John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal, claimed all of the options were wrong.

“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for changing the present system and no justification for doing it.

“It is bureaucratic nonsense. The very fact that there are three possibilities shows that there is no basis in this at all and I shall go on fighting for a single Suffolk force. We are a huge county and no sane person would put it down to any other.

“We should not accept it. The six counties idea is complete rubbish. There is no public demand to join the constabularies together and it is being forced upon people who do not want it.

Tory Simon Burns, MP for West Chelmsford, said: “I am totally against merging Essex Police with anybody else.

“Big is not necessarily beautiful. The people of Essex would be the biggest losers from this. You would lose the local affinity and identification between the police and their people. I think it would mean poorer policing and I cannot see how it would improve law enforcement.”

Jim Keeble, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said: “Suffolk has the best performing service in England so we are at top of tree at the moment. If we enlarge the service it may bring others up to that standard but on the other hand it would see huge changes that may take the focus away from the business end which is protecting people.

“There is also the question of where officers go. Some places in Suffolk might not be regarded as a hot bed of crime and so may be moved to elsewhere in the region.”

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