England & Wales

Huhne blasts ACPO

Just as I was beginning to despair at the policing fringe at the Lib Dem Conference, sponsored by the APA and ACPO, up stepped Chris Huhne.   After a dull opening about statistics, I slipped quietly towards the exit door, and then Mr Huhne hit his stride.   We had heard all the usual stuff from ACPO and the Police Superintendents Association.  Their argument goes roughly like this:  “importance of independence of police”, “guard against interference by politicians”, “policing professionals must retain operational control”, “policing is too complex to be left to politicians”.  My particular favourite Aunt Sally is this language around “answerability and accountability” that the defenders of the status quo in policing governance have invented.     Huhne was having none of it.  ACPO, he countered, has no transparency and it’s not clear to whom it is accountable.  He gave, as an example, the controversial position ACPO took in support of the Government over the issue of detention without trial.   He also puffed away the smokescreen over the need for policing to be more clearly publicly accountable.   Of course he agreed, as I do, that it is important to maintain operational independence, but there is also a need for proper mechanisms to hold the police to account and give the public a voice.   This should be at the local level, through elected councillors, who have a mandate to influence and shape local services.     The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they have a confused policy around local accountability, where they have aped the Conservatives and Labour ideas around ‘directly elected police commissioners’.   I suspect that Huhne would like to ditch it, certainly Liberal Democrat councillors think he should, and now is the time.   If I get a chance, over the next few days in Bournemouth, I will ask him about it.