THE move to create one police force for Wales is based on misguided and misleading analysis, a think tank claimed last night.
The Policy Exchange, a right- of-centre panel of expertise, pointed to the good record of Dyfed- Powys Police as evidence that small forces could be more effective than big ones.
It also claimed the enlarged police forces in Wales and England would be centralised, because police chiefs were generally reluctant to devolve power and money to local command units.
Another problem highlighted by its report, launched last night, is that the prosecution, court and probation services have been through painful reorganisations to make them fit existing police- force boundaries - which are soon to be changed.
The report also warns of public anger in urban areas as the police precept is averaged across new police regions, where currently rural forces tend to receive much more of their funding from local taxpayers than city ones.
An all-Wales force would impose a uniform precept across the nation, which could mean a big increase in council tax in South Wales.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke has argued that bigger forces are needed to help police counter bigger cross-regional threats such as terrorism and organised crime.
But the Policy Exchange's report, Size Isn't Everything: Restructuring Policing in England and Wales, says big forces are no more efficient than small ones - even on serious cross-border crime.
It recommends that instead the Government should:
Allow forces voluntarily to federate where necessary;
Extend the remit of national policing agencies;
Give more power and responsibility to Basic Command Units;
Modernise policing practices and working structures.
"By forcing through traumatic and counter-productive mergers in the teeth of public and much professional opinion, the Government is wasting political capital and hindering the fight against crime," said Anna Reid, who edited the report.
"Amalgamation would destroy hard-won co-terminosity with the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts and probation services, making it hard for them to cooperate with the police."
Most policing is managed through BCUs. Each unit typically consists of several hundred officers headed by a superintendent or chief superintendent. But the report warns that those units may not preserve the local democratic accountability of the current forces.
It says senior police officers are reluctant to give BCUs powers over their own management and finance, leaving them with full control only of spending on overtime and office equipment.
A Home Office spokeswoman rejected the report's claims, saying many forces now lacked the capacity to protect adequately against serious organised crime.
"The reason we're reviewing police-force structures is because of the judgement of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that the police forces we've got aren't delivering the policing we need," she said.
"Larger police forces will be large enough to meet the patterns of organised crime and terrorism."
However, the report claims that some of the proposed new forces are designed around political boundaries rather than patterns of crime.
"For example, merger between North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire police was immediately rejected as crossing the Welsh- English border, despite the fact that much Welsh crime originates in Liverpool," says the report.
Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary leader, Elfyn Llwyd, said, "As this report states, the matter of police reorganisation has been misleading from the beginning.
"I welcome this independent report, stating that smaller police forces such as the Welsh forces outperform larger forces like the Metropolitan Police - yet more proof that an all-Wales force is unnecessary.
"Charles Clarke is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, and the real reason why he is so determined to go ahead with this ludicrous and costly plan is yet to be heard."