Essex may keep independent police force

ESSEX could become a lone ranger by keeping its own sovereign constabulary amid a nationwide overhaul of law enforcement that has opened the doors to new police “super-forces”.

ESSEX could become a lone ranger by keeping its own sovereign constabulary amid a nationwide overhaul of law enforcement that has opened the doors to new police “super-forces”.

The decision by Essex Police Authority to buck the national trend towards regionalising police forces was yesterday welcomed by an Essex MP as “the most sensible thing I've heard in a long time”.

Earlier this month, Chief Constables across the eastern region agreed to look into three options for the future of policing in the area.

Those options include setting up a single “super-force” for Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, creating two new forces on a “south-north divide” basis in which Essex would be merged with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire or establishing two enlarged forces on an “east-west divide” that would see Essex joined with Suffolk and Norfolk.

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But during an informal meeting of Essex Police Authority, members decided to investigate a fourth option - that of remaining as a single Essex Police force.

Authority chairman Robert Chambers said: “There is a strong feeling that we are a fairly large force and we want to be given the opportunity of seeing whether we can carry out the Home Office's recommendations for policing on our own.

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“The most important thing to me is that we have the top cop in the country and we want to keep the new Essex style of policing, which includes getting more officers out on front line policing, having longer police station opening hours and getting tough on anti-social behaviour.”

The authority's decision to investigate retaining Essex Police - which has 3,200 officers serving more than one million people - as a single force was yesterday welcomed by West Chelmsford MP Simon Burns, who has voiced strong concerns about regionalising the police force.

Mr Burns said: “This seems the most sensible thing I've heard in a long time.

“I hope they stick with it. If they want to make reforms within the constabulary then fine, as long as they are for the better.

“Essex has its own ports and airport and population to warrant and justify a force just on its own.”

Plans to create a new £20 million police contact centre have been put on hold until a final decision over the future of policing in the area is decided.

Mr Chambers said for the staff that had spent the past two and a half years working on the proposals, the decision to defer the project was a blow to morale.

But he added: “I don't think taxpayers would want us spending that type of sum on something that might not exist in two or three years.

“I feel very sad for those who have worked on this for so long and they are a bit de-motivated by this.”

A single preferred option for the future model of policing in the eastern region will be chosen by the area's chief constables and sent to the Home Office for consideration by the end of the year.

Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex, has invited fellow Essex MPs to meet and discuss plans for regionalising the county's police force. The meeting will take place later today at Westminster.

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