The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) came into being following a partial merger of the County Chief Constables' Club (established 1858) and the Chief Constables' Association of England and Wales (1896). Both organisations had operated primarily for social purposes, with the County Chief Constables' Club providing services for senior officers of County forces, and the Chief Constables' Association providing the same for senior officers of City and Borough Forces.
Although providing social events was the primary goal of these organisations, they also considered legal and operational issues. In order to encourage co-operation between the two separate bodies, in 1918 the country was divided into eight districts, with every Chief Constable, whether of a County, City or Borough force, becoming a member of a District Conference. These conferences were also attended by officials from the Home Office, and members of H. M. Inspectors of Constabulary. A Central Conference of Chief Constables first met in March 1918, with the goal of co-ordinating the District Conferences. Until the establishment of the ACPO the Central and District Conferences were the main communication between the Home Office and Chief Police Officers.
Work towards amalgamation of the two bodies began in 1943, with drafts of rules for the new association exchanged between the two groups and a letter submitted to the Home Office outlining their intentions. However, in 1945 it was resolved that no further action be taken until the end of the Second World War. Following this, little progress was made until Lord Oaksey's committee of general inquiry into the police was appointed in 1948. This prompted the two organisations to complete their amalgamation, forming the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales in July 1948, in order that the committee need only meet with a single representative association for all chief officers. Initially it was known as the Chief Constable's Association and retained distinctions between City, Borough and County forces. In 1952 the distinction between different forces was dropped and the Metropolitan Police became members. From this point the association became the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales (ACPO).
Membership of the ACPO was open to officers of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable and above. ACPO's finances were generated by a combination of funds from the Home Office, individual police authorities, membership subscriptions and proceeds from an annual exhibition.
Following the introduction of the Police Act 1964 ACPO became more involved in facilitating the coordination and cooperation of police forces, as well as influencing policing policy at a national level. The Act also provided the ACPO with greater powers over the local police authorities. Although the ACPO provided advice for chief officers, final decisions regarding operational practice remained with individual Chief Constables. In 1968 the ACPO was reconstituted to establish a Secretariat with a full time general secretary, in order to relieve serving chief officers of the additional responsibilities caused by the increasingly active Association.
In 1970 the Royal Ulster Constabulary became part of the organisation, causing it to become the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 1980 the ACPO led National Reporting Centre was established. Designed to support large scale coordinated responses to national emergencies, both the Centre and ACPO came under public criticism following the police response to the 1984-5 miners' strike due to concerns this was the beginnings of a government controlled national police force, and questions regarding to whom the ACPO was accountable. In 1985 an operational review of the ACPO described its new committee structure, consisting of General Purposes, Crime, Traffic, Technical and Research (TARC) and Training Committees.
Following consultations with corporate identity consultants, ACPO's constitution was formalised in 1990 and the following Statement of Common Purpose and Values was issued:
- The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led strategic body.
- In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, coordinates the strategic policing response.
In 1996 ACPO became a private company limited by guarantee, and a separate body, the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association (CPOSA) was established. CPOSA took on responsibility for protecting the interests of its members, allowing the now private ACPO to work solely on behalf of the police service, rather than its staff. During the 1990s, the ACPO became an established voice for the police service within the media.
The committee structure described in 1985 continued until 2000, with individual committees taking responsibility for specific aspects of policing, both operational and administrative. Some of these included sub-committees and/or ad hoc working groups, often consisting of representatives of external bodies such as the Home Office, the Police Federation, the Police Council or the Superintendents' Association. The committees were answerable to the Chief Constables' Council - the senior decision making body within ACPO. The Council was composed of the Chief Constables of the forces in England, Wales and later Northern Ireland, as well as the equivalent ranks in the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.
In the year 2000-2001 ACPO's business structure was reorganised into individual 'business areas', replacing the committee structure. Each business area was headed by a chief officer and took responsibility for a number of 'portfolios'.
Many changes took place to the arrangements of committees, sub-committees, business areas and portfolios over time. In 2013 twelve business areas were in operation:
Equality, Diversity & Human Rights
Finances & Resources
Local Policing & Partnerships
Terrorism & Allied Matters
At the same time, nine National Units, answerable directly to ACPO or one of its Business Areas were also in existence:
ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM)
National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC)
National Wildlife Crime Unit
National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS)
Freedom of Information (FOI) Central Referral Unit
The ACPO Criminal Records Office (ACRO)
Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)
ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Services (AVCIS)
Crime Prevention Initiatives Limited (CPI)
The organisation also featured regional committees, with grouped officers based on the location of their force area. In 1992, the regional structure was as follows:
Number 1 North West Region (Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and Royal Ulster)
Number 2 North East Region (Cleveland, Durham, Humberside, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire)
Number 3 Midland Region (Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia, West Midlands)
Number 4 East Region (Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk)
Number 5 South East Region (Bedfordshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Thames Valley)
Number 6 South West Region (Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire)
Number 7 Wales Region (Dyfed Powys, Gwent, North Wales, South Wales)
Number 8 Metropolitan Region (City of London, Metropolitan)
In the year 2012/13 there was uncertainty over the ability of the police authorities to contribute their allocation of funding to the ACPO. The Home Office therefore increased their financial support that year, on the understanding that the recently appointed Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) must agree to further funding being provided the following year. The PCCs commissioned an independent review into the structure, function and value for money of the ACPO. The review's findings were presented to the PCCs in November 2013. The review recommended that although there was a need for a Chief Constable's Council to fulfil many of the functions performed by the existing Council within ACPO, the funding for national units should not pass through a limited company. As a result, ACPO was disbanded on April 1 2015, with many of its responsibilities being divided between the newly established National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing.
While the ACPO served England, Wales and in later years Northern Ireland, Scotland had its own equivalent organisation: ACPOS (Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland), which ceased to operate on the 1st of April 2013, being succeeded by Police Scotland.