Police buried under a paper mountain

Frontline policing is buckling under the weight of "astronomical" paperwork with two in five North-East officers on other duties, it was yesterday claimed.

Frontline policing is buckling under the weight of "astronomical" paperwork with two in five North-East officers on other duties, it was yesterday claimed.

The Tories warned bureaucracy was hampering the ability of police to patrol the streets as Home Office figures showed around 40% of the region's officers are not on frontline duties.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said officers could be tied up for hours with paperwork after making simple arrests and that cutting bureaucracy would help.

Time spent by officers on frontline work in Cleveland and Cumbria was 55% and 59% in 2005-06 - but have been set targets to push that above 65% in 2007-08. Durham officers spent 59% of their time on frontline areas like searches, interviewing suspects and special operations, but must raise that to 67%.

Northumbria Police was the best regional performer with 62% of time spent on the frontline, but has to increase that to 71% in 2007-08.

The revelations come days after Northumbria Chief Constable Mike Craik hit out at "ridiculous" targets and criticised ministers over poor police budget rises.

Last night, Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said: "I know police officers on a personal basis and the amount of paperwork involved on a simple arrest is astronomical now and it takes them away from the beat."

Problems stemmed from legislation introduced by Labour and an unnecessary "culture of targets" imposed on police by the Home Office, added the Conservative MP.

Russ Watson, chairman of the Northumbria police federation, said an officer working an eight-hour day could be tied up for three hours following a drink-driving arrest and warned targets were skewering the service offered to the public.

Shadow police minister Nick Herbert hit out at the "accumulation of paperwork" and warned targets were hampering frontline work as he launched proposals to reform policing.

"We have put a target of over £600m as the cost of compliance with these directives which distorts performance which in itself creates a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork," he said.

Northumbria Deputy Chief Constable David Warcup said elements of bureaucracy could be removed, but warned much was based on what society wanted and managing risk. He said more demands were being placed on police that required extra paperwork from dealing with domestic violence to missing people - although it produced results with Northumbria Police among the best performers.

But Mr Warcup warned police were not getting the extra resources that were needed and questioned the effectiveness of the system used to measure time spent on frontline work because it did not reflect differences in how forces worked. He said Northumbria used the system to see how more officers and staff could be deployed to the frontline.

A spokesman for Durham Police echoed his comments, adding: "We are striving to get officers freed from these office-bound roles and out on visible patrol and other core policing duties."

The Home Office said there would always be paperwork to ensure accountability and prepare cases, although beat officers only spent 8.6% of their time on incident-related paperwork last year. Targets to increase time spent on frontline duties would drive up standards and were agreed with forces, added a spokesman.

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National force to fight crime urged

Proposals for a new national force to fight serious crime were unveiled by the Tories yesterday as part of their vision to improve policing.

Shadow police minister Nick Herbert called for an end to isolated "fiefdoms" across the country but denied giving top officers an ultimatum, saying better co-operation was still an option.

He also criticised the Government's "complete vacuum of leadership" since its plans for force mergers collapsed last year.

The proposals have emerged from a year-long review of policing ordered by Tory leader David Cameron and led by Mr Herbert.

Mr Cameron said it provided "serious and substantive" reforms that would succeed where Labour "gimmicks" had failed - in what he dubbed "Tony Blair's biggest broken promise".

The interim report concluded there were not enough officers on the streets and serious crime was not being tackled effectively despite record spending on law and order.

Mr Herbert claimed fewer than one in 10 officers were dedicated to neighbourhood policing, while more civilian staff could process paperwork and security firms guard crime scenes to provide "value for money" under his proposals.

The report also backed Mr Cameron's call for greater local accountability through elected commissioners with the power to hire and fire chief constables, set budgets and strategies.

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