US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. How China steals our secrets (New York Times)

By failing to act, Washington is effectively fulfilling China's research requirements while helping to put Americans out of work, writes Richard Clarke.

2. Lévy for le president (Wall Street Journal)

This editorial asks: How about a write-in ballot for Maurice Lévy, whose business success is making him the most publicly reviled man in the country?

3. How Romney can overcome his shortcomings (Washington Post)

Romney, who speaks politics awkwardly, now faces his largest political task: He must be something more than a generic Republican, says Michael Gerson.

4. And now, the Veepstakes (New York Times)

Don't throw your own hat into the ring. If the last few election cycles are any guide, to be named a running mate is to befall an evil spell that ultimately strains your sanity, scrambles your future and does grievous injury to your reputation, writes Frank Bruni.

5. Bosnian war offers lessons for Syria's conflict (Washington Post)

Bosnia shows the way. The Syrian war will worsen. Many more people will be killed and, finally, the United States will have to show Turkey and Saudi Arabia how these things are done, writes Richard Cohen.

6. Obamacare will be Romney's savior (LA Times)

Romney has been attacking Obamacare since its inception. "I'll stop it in its tracks on Day One!" he promises constantly on the stump, says Johah Goldberg.

7. Romney's "Women Problem" (Wall Street Journal)

William McGurn says that Romney's inability to generate much excitement among women appears related to a general inability to generate much excitement among anyone.

8. Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist (Politico)

In the ongoing debate over women's health care, one voice has been mostly absent: that of the anti-abortion feminist, writes Lila Rose.

9. The imagination goes wild: Paying for the health care of the irresponsible (Chicago Tribune)

You healthy people will be paying more for juicers, addicts, gangbangers, smokers, fatsos, drunken drivers and other assorted careless, thoughtless creatures, writes Dennis Byrne.

10. Obama joins attacks on court even before health care ruling (Washington Examiner)

During his 2010 State of the Union speech, he took the rare step of scolding the Supreme Court as justices looked on in the House chamber, says this editorial.

President Obama speaking at the White House Rose Garden 2 April. Credit: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation