The Search to Stop Political Policing

English: Metropolitan Police officers on patro...
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Many people like to think that politics have no place in policing, I include myself in that grouping. Despite all the rhetoric from ‘interested’ parties on all sides of the process, politics have always been there and, to a certain extent, always will be…

Police direction and management born out of political direction or ideals, be they of party or personal origin, will always have a profoundly negative impact police impartiality and for some time yet. However, since the latest Government proposals for Police & Crime Commissioners, perhaps these negative impacts are set to get even worse?

Despite all the lauded but arguable advantages of PCCs such as; greater control over accountability, more community engagement and even greater neighbourhood orientated direction, there are still many people who believe; the provision of PCCs will actually result in greater politicisation of the police.

PCC’s can’t influence operational police activity – which is why the whole concept is a flawed load of old Tory spin in the first place. (@InspGadgetBlogs)

At the end of last year Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Police Federation of England & Wales (PFEW) said that PCCs, although intended to develop a direct relationship between the public and police, “could actually threaten the open and transparent nature of police governance” – and that’s before we even consider the negative impact upon the fundamental foundation of British policing, the impartial office of constable.

The Office of Constable (taken under Oath) bestows upon an ordinary citizen an extraordinary range of powers. The impartial execution of these powers, free from political interference, is the cornerstone of the criminal justice system and the non-negotiable key to maintaining any civilised democracy.We change this at our peril… (Clive Chamberlain, Dorset Police Federation)

The first stages of the national PCC role out began in London this week. But as the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London began its task, of setting strategy and budgets for Scotland Yard, questions were once again being raised.

It’s interesting that Blair Gibbs of Policy Exchange, a person reputed to be “close to ministerial thinking”, has also alluded to some the negative issues in a recent article in The Guardian (see here). Although Gibbs may be popular with the politicians, he’s almost as unpopular with many policing practitioners however, Gibbs does accept that “policing priorities may well change according to the political views of the elected politician.”

So a Liberal Democrat in the south-west elected on a civil liberties platform may insist on less use of CCTV, while a Labour politician in north-west England may demand more…(Blair Gibbs)

In my opinion; it’s wrong for standards of policing to be set differently in differing areas based upon political priority. Probably for that reason alone I would also suggest; in many respects the jury is still out on the outcomes and perceived values of PCCs. I would also argue they aren’t the only political impacts on policing at this time.

Several police powers, which are put in place as a result of legislation born out of political debate and reasoning. But these powers are also subject to further change as a result of the same process. A legislative function that far too often, appears to be driven by our ever powerful media influence.  In many respects the support or backlash of public opinion drives political aspirations and the desire of politicians to maintain high levels of public popularity and support.

One the greatest hot potatoes of police powers, continually thrown back and forth between sociopolitical experts and activists are the somewhat controversial Stop & Search laws. They may be constantly and liberally berated by many in human rights circles however, just as many policing practitioners would also argue that; these powers are a valid and vital tool in the police officer’s crime fighting utility belt.

How to loose friends and alienate people: The fact remains that if you have nothing illegal on you, and you are not engaged in illegal activity, you shouldn’t worry about being searched. You have the option to make a 6 minute process into 30 minutes of grief if you want to, by shouting the odds, getting your friends to intervene, treating the police like fools and being obstructive…(Read more)

The problems arise when such powers are used randomly and/or indiscriminately, as the media keep pointing out (see here).

Analysis shows that black people are now 30 times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people…(The Guardian)

But, as with any police power, the problem is often not the legislation itself rather, the way in which it is utilised and that is dependent upon the individual and his/her standard of training. When using any power police should always have regard to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the PACE codes of practice. Because of mostly media fulled public angst, the Home Office have recently changed the requirements for how the police record stop and search (read more). Those changes, purportedly aimed at reducing bureaucracy, are actually changes for mostly political reasons.

The political thought process and pressures, born out of reported causation factors for the London Riots etc are also the reasons why; the Metropolitan Police has decided to – “dramatically reduce the number of random searches on members of the public.” These operational changes are being made in an effort to “improve relations between officers and the black and ethnic minority communities” (see here). That said, the ‘problems’ with the application of stop & search may never have arisen in the first place, if not for politically motivated and driven ‘targets’ in policing!

Although often rancid and/or caustically delivered, many of the commentators to the Inspector Gadget Blog post point this factor out most eloquently. For many years many, mostly younger in service, officers have been living in constant fear of performance retribution from their bean counting management. Their almost sole daily task has been the chase to achieve, and hopefully surpass, performance targets and quotas. Ones which are often based wholly upon manipulated and suspect statistical crime figures. Data that is recorded for and in line with political pressures of public opinion.

Irrespective of the human rights and diversity issues involved here, most of which are politically biased in any case, you will never totally remove politics from policing. At least not whilst statistical data continues to form the sole basis of police direction. And all this before you even start to consider another important factor; the police (supposedly) reflect and represent the society from which they are recruited.

Can we really remove politics from policing once and for all? I’m not holding my breath!

One thought on “The Search to Stop Political Policing

  1. By way of confirmation to some of the points I raised, Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, on the overhaul of Stop & Search tactics in London saying; “The use of stop and search by the Metropolitan Police has not always been professional.” He also added – “It is a complex area, but by training and education we can help our officers to deal with it.”

    I.E. Correct Training and Professional application (in a non target driven manner) are integeral to the correct use of these powers!

    BBC: Stop and search use and alternative police tactics


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