Surrey chief constable calls for force mergers

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The chief constable of Surrey has called for the merger of some forces in order to protect frontline services and make savings.

Lynne Owens was speaking as part of a panel at the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales' annual conference.

She said that in an ideal world there would not be 43 separate police forces across England and Wales.

But she also said that mergers were unlikely to happen in the future.

The comments were in answer to a question from Det Supt Andy Street from Bedfordshire Police, who asked: "When will the Acpo (Association of Chief Police Officers) ranks take their share of reduction in numbers being experienced by superintendents and all other ranks?"

Analysis

The idea of cutting down the size of the police is not a new one.

Six years ago the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he wanted to reduce the number of forces in England and Wales from 43 to 12, claiming it would help in the fight against 21st Century crime, such as terrorism.

Lynne Owens is not the only senior police official or organisation to believe mergers are necessary, with members of Acpo and the Superintendents Association also holding that view.

She has not suggested that her own force should be merged, but there was a proposal in 2006 to join together the Surrey and Sussex forces.

Both the police authorities in Surrey and Sussex rejected the idea due to concerns about start-up costs and ongoing revenue costs.

Local public opinion polls also suggested the idea was unpopular.

Ms Owens said that restructuring the police force would lead to a reduction in chief constables, deputy chief constables, and assistant chief constables.

She said she believed this was the best way to meet the financial challenges while protecting frontline services.

'Collaborative arrangements'

"We don't currently have that so we're having to come to collaborative arrangements - I speak on behalf of my own force," she said.

"We currently share an assistant chief constable position with Sussex and that does actually come with its own challenges, regardless of the skill of the individual."

She said she thought there would not be mergers and that it was more likely that under the new police crime commissioners, who are due to be elected in November, there would be more collaboration with neighbouring forces.

In August 2011 a joint major crime investigation team, made up of officers from the Surrey and Sussex forces, was created.

The government announced a plan to merge the two forces in 2006, but it was dropped after both the Surrey and Sussex police authorities objected to the proposal on funding grounds.

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