Policing the Virus

By Mike Speakman, Law & Order Spokesman

31st March 2020

From my first day at Police training school in 1968 it was drummed into us that we police with the consent of the public. This central tenet of British Policing remained true throughout my service, and throughout the ranks I achieved. Until recently, the British police service had never seen itself as an occupying force or as an arm of the state, or as an arbiter of social behaviour.

In recent years the support of the public for the police has declined, largely as a result of the polices own actions. They abandoned beat patrol in favour of monitoring social media; They blindly enforced speeding laws with little regard for the alienation of the easy targets of otherwise law abiding motorists; They ignored the behaviour of favoured identities; they set their own standards of social behaviour with non-crime hate crime; They chose not to attend the scenes of house burglaries. The list is quite long, and every example has alienated parts of the British community who were traditionally at the heart of support for policing.

We now have the police reaction to their role in enforcing the social distancing legislation to combat the virus. Roadblocks in rural areas; Drone surveillance of beauty spots; the creation of facilities to report your neighbours for too much exercise; searching of shopping bags for “non-essential” items: The list goes on. There was even an example of a Sergeant issuing a fixed penalty to a lady who was marking safe distance lines in chalk on the pavement outside her shop.

What has happened to the notion of the traditional British bobby with common sense and discretion. In my view that Sergeant was not fit to hold the office of Constable never mind having achieved promotion and it speaks volumes of the recruitment and selection process where sound standards from my time have been abandoned in the name of diversity. I was a recruiting Sergeant for part of my service and the Home office were continually pressuring forces to lower their standards, in education, health and previous character. So, I believe we have a number of officers who do not share the traditional values of British policing. (It is worth noting you no longer have to be British to be a British police officer, although I have no evidence that this is a factor.) However, the presence of some bobbies who are not fit to wear the uniform does not explain it all.

The culture of policing has changed, and this has several origins. Firstly, the government exercises far more control over the police than it ever did in my time. They abolished the Polices own professional body (The Association of Chief Police Officers; ACPO) and replaced it with a government appointed quango.   The government also exercised far more control over the appointment of senior officers. They reduced the local accountability of Chief Officers by getting rid of police authorities and replacing them with Police and Crime Commissioners, accountable to the Home Office. It was in my time that the Government started introducing their own targets for police forces and enforced them through government Inspectors. Thus, chief officers looked to please central government and the local agenda received less priority. Chief Police Officers no longer serve their communities, they are agents of government.

These factors have been highlighted in the approach to enforcing the COVID 19 laws. Some forces are going beyond the law, because their managers think that is what will please their masters. These managers need to realise that like it or not, they still need the consent of their communities to do the job. There will be an end to the current situation and all police officers need to remember who they serve. The last force I served in had the motto, “Protect, Help and Reassure”. The sentiment behind those words matters, the police are the friends of the public, not their enemies. The relationship is being damaged by the current culture and the many retired officers I have contact with despair at the state of modern policing.   For Britain will restore local accountability to the Police and other public services.

This is something of a side issue, but whilst there is overwhelming public compliance with the new rules, the governments approach has not been entirely logical. Many people are asking what’s the point of isolating ourselves? Why set up rural roadblocks when illegal immigrants are allowed in and there is still unrestricted movement through airports? It doesn’t help public acceptance of police enforcement

Tayside Police” by conner395 is licensed under CC BY