I COMPLETELY disagree with Tom Richmond on the issue of uniting Yorkshire’s police forces (The Yorkshire Post, May 5). If anything we need more – not fewer – forces.
He makes a powerful case against the manifest inefficiencies and over-bureaucratisation in the four existing forces, all of which pragmatic problems can be tackled with better management, just as cross force co-operation works effectively. There is no evidence that creating larger and more remote structures of itself increases efficiency. It often does the opposite.
However, the issue of policing is not only one of management structures but is crucially also concerned with accountability and diversity. It is perverse in the aftermath of the inquest on the Hillsborough deaths to suggest that we should risk spreading the arrogant and even corrupt attitudes that were evident in the South Yorkshire force at the time across the whole of a single force for Yorkshire. Also, examining the manifest failures of the same police force to protect children from exploitation in Rotherham is a warning that we should not for a moment risk those same attitudes pervading a far larger force.
This is not an academic question. As a member of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, I served on its police committee for some years and also being a Leeds MP I maintained a good relationship with the West Yorkshire force. Its Chief Constable at the time of the Miners’ Strike, Colin Sampson, told me that he was appalled at the attitude of the Metropolitan police officers who were sent to Yorkshire. They were taunting the miners and, he said, destroying the good relationship that had hitherto existed between police and miners. He therefore gave the instruction that, unlike in South Yorkshire, no Metropolitan officers were to come to West Yorkshire. We thus avoided some of the worst incidents. Sampson’s important initiative would not have been possible with one single force.
Tom Richmond quotes the Scottish situation with a single force in support of his case. It is actually precisely the opposite. The unification of the previous eight forces has led to significant remoteness and, under pressure, a lack of local knowledge when officers have to be sent from many miles away. Establishing huge police forces makes public accountability more difficult and makes it easier to for the police to act arrogantly and with impunity.
For the sake of the crucial relationship between police and public, we need to maintain the diversity of separate forces.