This week has seen a number of events thrust the future of policing back into the spotlight, if it ever left. Her Majesties Inspector of Constabulary Mr. Tom Winsor, a civilian by the way, has published his annual review of policing (The State of Policing The Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales 2018) and finds fault with the police service. Retired senior Metropolitan Police Commissioners have finally had the bottle to criticise the government’s handling of the Police service for the last eight years under Theresa May as Home Secretary and Prime Minister.
30,000 officers and support staff gone
I think the problems go back further than eight years. But they have certainly seen the most damage to the policing of this country. The headline figure is the loss of some 30,000 officers and support staff, over 20 per cent of the total available 10 years ago. The bulk of these have gone from street policing. It was always the way that specialist roles were filled first, and the remainder allocated to beat work.
Government have consistently imposed additional priorities on the police and indeed built targets to enforce them. Consequently, the number of specialist squads has multiplied and the source to fill them has been uniform patrol. These priorities were often ones that the government wanted rather than what the local population thought was important. This has reached absurd levels with the formation of units to monitor so called Hate Crime, where people’s feelings and sensitivities take priority over the real world of burglary, knife crime and grooming gangs.
The government and in particular the Tory party have never understood policing from the grass roots of local communities. They have failed to understand the crucial links between communities and their police. The police have effectively withdrawn from street policing and the consequences are evident across the country. This has resulted in a lack of confidence in the police and I believe this has been a deliberate aim of the government.
The Tories in particular were always jealous of the independence of Chief Constables. Historically they were accountable to a police authority of mixed politicians and magistrates. The Tories made several attempts to take control of policing services, initially unsuccessfully, but they eventually appointed Police and Crime Commissioners. When you look in detail at the role and powers of these Commissioners you find that they are subject to almost total control by the Home Office. They are government agents, even when not members of the governing political party.
Association of Chief Police Officers
The Tories also abolished a professional body I belonged to, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). ACPO used to advise on policy and practice and was independent of government. It has been replaced by The Police Chiefs Council, accountable to government.
Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary used to be headed by retired senior police officers. Not any more, the current incumbent is an ex rail regulator, which says it all really.
So, the thrust of this week’s publications is that the police service needs further “reform”. This is often code for centralisation and political control. In my view the exact opposite of what should be done. Policing is essentially a local service delivered for local people and national politicians are best kept out of it. A little story will illustrate what I see as the problem. In the 1990’s it is claimed that a certain Home Secretary was fed up with going to meetings with his European colleagues and finding he was the only Minister of the Interior (Home Secretary) who did not have direct control of police activity, as is the case in European countries.
Regional Crime Squads
What they did was to hijack what at that time were known as Regional Crime Squads. These were local officers who were pooled regionally to combat serious and organised crime. They were coordinated centrally. What was done was to take these officers away from their local forces and form them into what has become the National Crime Agency. Forces were not given a choice. Hence a national agency, accountable to the Home Secretary was created to satisfy the ego of a national politician.
Now there is a case for some crime to be dealt with at a national level, but there were mechanisms in existence to do this. The response to the IRA was one such example.
There is now a risk that perceived weaknesses in policing will be used as an excuse for further centralisation of policing, again to the detriment of local communities.
“Boots on the ground”
It is fundamental to the nature of policing that it requires boots on the ground. The beat bobby is the eyes and ears of the police force and the friend of the local community. I have numerous examples from my career of information and intelligence being passed to me because I was known in a particular area where I was a foot patrol. You cannot beat being out on the street in uniform talking to people. The government tried to undermine the idea of beat patrol over several years by commissioning research that showed that a uniformed foot patrol hardly prevented any crime. Apart from it being difficult to establish what you have prevented the idea that that is the only role of a beat bobby shows a true ignorance of the nature of policing. Indeed, crime is only about 20% of what a bobby deals with.
I have only scratched the surface of some of the issues with this article. There is a lot more to be said about a quite complicated and intricate relationship between Police Forces, Local Communities and central and local government.
For Britain Policies
For the record For Britain has policies to deal with the problem. Some of them are:
- We will restore policing numbers to pre2010 levels. (Thank you, Boris, for stealing this policy).
- We will remove the Police from the Political Control of Police and Crime Commissioners.
- We will make sure they are accountable to local populations.
- Reform the HMI from a puppet of government to an independent professional body
- Prevent further mergers of Police Forces
- Restore Beat Policing
- Remove restraints on Stop and Search
- Abolish the concept of Hate crime.
Mike Speakman is a retired Deputy Chief Constable and Policing Spokesman for For Britain.
We welcome ex police officers to the party and value their experience.
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