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'Extremism' warning over policing

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Direct elections to police authorities could unleash extreme or reckless political agendas into British policing, a new paper has warned.

The discussion document In For Questioning, issued by the Society for Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Officers (Solace), warns against the pitfalls of introducing direct election of police authorities as proposed earlier this month in a Home Office consultation paper.

It argues that direct election would lead to local celebrities without relevant skills taking control of the police, based on "a strong but eccentric local mandate", who would undermine the position and independence of chief constables.

Extreme or reckless political agendas could be "unleashed inside British policing" by direct election, the paper warns.

One strength of the existing system, it says, is that party politics is removed from policing through the involvement of magistrates and other independent figures on police authorities.

The paper also argues against any return to the system that existed before 1996, when councils had direct control of police authorities, as it would see the return of police budgets having to fight their financial corner against the demand of education and social services.

Police authorities had secured reductions in crime and "now is not the time to replace them with transatlantic novelties and repent at leisure," it said.

Welsh councils and police authorities have unanimously rejected the government's proposals.

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