Elite police murder squad to be merged in force restructure

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THE team of detectives responsible for investigating murders and other major crimes at Yorkshire’s biggest police force is to be merged with other units as part of money-saving plans.

West Yorkshire Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiry (HMET) team, which has led probes into some of the region’s most high profile cases including the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ Stephen Griffiths and the murder of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky, will become part of the force’s larger Protective Services Crime Department, including the previously separate Crime and Operations teams, in April.

Detectives fear the move, which will also see officers investigating organised crime brought into the newly-merged unit, will reduce the quality of specialist investigations “from a Marks and Spencer service to a Poundland service”.

Bosses, who are trying to make up to £154 million in savings between 2010 and 2017, say the move will ensure greater co-ordination across the force and help staff become skilled in other areas of policing.

But the force admits the merger will mean “there will be a reduction in the numbers of resources within the department” though they say “efficiency improvements will compensate for this.”

HMET, a specialist team of elite detectives, have been responsible for taking on investigations into all murders and other high-profile investigations since being formed around 2006. Prior to that detectives were taken from a general pool for major investigations on a case-by-case basis.

The Yorkshire Post understands the number of detectives available to the unit has dropped in recent years, as the force battles to cope with funding cuts condemned as “unfair” by West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner.

But it is feared that making specialist detectives go out on more routine investigations could reduce the force’s capacity to tackle major investigations.

Assistant chief constable Craig Guildford said: “We have a really successful approach to serious and organised crime, HMET being recognised nationally for the quality of its investigations and for bringing to justice the most serious criminals.

“Within HMET, Crime and Operations teams we have some highly experienced staff, whose skills need to be used as widely as possible to protect the public.

“The principle behind bringing together Crime, HMET and Operations is not only to look at responding to serious crime, but also to targeting those who present the greatest threat of harm to our communities. These teams, collectively, have been successful in reducing the number of serious incidents such as homicide and therefore we want to use their significant experience to look at a broader range of serious crime, for example criminal use of firearms.

“By bringing the teams together there is opportunity to reduce some of the senior management and other overheads and also some of the administrative processes and therefore, we will be able to increase our capacity to deal with that broader range of offending with a leaner but even more effective resource.”

The merger is part of West Yorkshire Police’s programme of change scheme to balance the force’s books and transform the way it does business in the fact of dramatic funding cuts.

It has already cut the number of policing divisions covering Leeds and Bradford from five to two and removed a number of management positions, as well as cutting the number of custody suites it uses from ten to six. Police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “I want to reassure people that these new developments are about effectively delivering the already nationally recognised quality of major crime investigations in West Yorkshire.”

Nick Smart of West Yorkshire’s Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, said HMET and organised crime detectives were concerned about being transferred to divisional CID units as part of the move.

But he added: “As long as the operational capacity is not impacted and front end delivery is not diminished we will support whatever is done, because we know the chief constable has to make savings.”