Police force under threat

SUFFOLK'S police force could be amalgamated with other East Anglian forces as part of a major nationwide shake-up heralded today.The demise of England's smaller forces was signalled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

SUFFOLK'S police force could be amalgamated with other East Anglian forces as part of a major nationwide shake-up heralded today.

The demise of England's smaller forces was signalled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

He published new plans to make police more accountable to their local communities - including a suggestion that the existing set-up of 43 forces was out of date.

Senior officers in Suffolk were today studying a Home Office document which suggests developing larger, "strategic" forces big enough to deal with all the demands of modern policing.

It could mean the end for smaller forces - although no candidates for merger were named in today's consultation paper.

Suffolk has already joined Norfolk and Cambridgeshire forces in the "Three Counties Project" to enable them to work closely together, but a police spokeswoman said there were no immediate plans to increase this co-operation towards a full merger.

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Today's paper was the first time the Home Office had indicated that such a move was being considered.

Ministers also announced that foreign policemen will be able to become chief constables for the first time.

Today's paper suggested creating more "lead' forces to specialise in investigating crimes such as murder, complex fraud and internet paedophilia.

These specialists could "provide a focal point for intelligence and expertise' and provide a more effective response in other forces' areas, it added.

"The Government believes the time is right to consider whether the present 43 force structure in England and Wales is the right one for today's and tomorrow's policing needs,' said the paper.

Mr Blunkett said local residents must become actively involved in advising police how to do their job, rather than being "passive receivers of public services'.

The consultation paper, Policing: Building Safer Communities Together, sets out a wide range of modernisation ideas, such as reforming police authorities by renaming them "police boards' and making them wholly or partly elected by the public.

The Government also published the National Policing Plan for 2004-2007, which sets out chief constables' key targets.

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