Monthly Archives: January 2012
Much like the ‘suspicions’ expressed by many of our so-called investigative journos, from time to time, I also have a propensity to harbour concerns about the actual motives driving their work ethics. I suppose trying to answer the question, who is the most paranoid, would probably result in a subjective conclusion…
This week, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), a not-for-profit organisation based at City University, London, is launching its latest ‘project’ - an in-depth investigation about Deaths in Police Custody.
- TBIJ Deaths in Police Custody Project
- Analysis: Too many deaths, too little accountability
- How many have died after police restraint? MP calls for inquiry
- Police guidelines permit techniques that can kill
- Revealed: Deaths that were not in official report
- In video – the arrest of Frank Ogboru
The initial analysis for the series would seem to suggest; hundreds of people dying at the hands of the police and police officers are escaping punishment for this heinous crime. Not so!
But don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to placate public concerns with platitudes about any excessive use of force, or abuse of authority. Any death in police custody is a sad (sometimes avoidable) event, not least for those police officers involved in the circumstances leading to that death.
Because of the often mischievous and emotive methods of many of our journalists, some individuals within our society find it far too easy to castigate our police. For any failure, no matter how tenuous the link between their actions/inactions and the final result. Why is this?
Do we hold the belief that every surgeon who ‘lost’ a patient on the operating table, is another Harold Shipman? Do we look at every school caretaker as an Ian Huntley? Even the pacifists and conscientious objectors amongst us have a tendency to support our military personnel. It’s somewhat bazar that, irrespective of any vociferous condemnation of the politicians who sent them to war, most still respect our military and look upon them with pride.
The common factor here is that, despite all the above actually serving our society, there is an underlying tendency to dislike and/or mistrust those who challenge our behaviour. Much as many children don’t like teachers and parents telling them what to do (if they don’t want to do it), many adults also don’t take well to being prevented from doing whatever they want to do (and are non compliant). Even when their desires/habits have a negative impact upon others, or they’re in contravention of our democratically developed legislation.
In a related article, from The Independent, about police restraint techniques (see below), the Metropolitan Police Commander responsible for self-defence and restraint at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:-
Where an individual is violent and represents a danger to themselves and the public, the police are rightly expected to restrain them for their own safety and to protect other members of the public. Foremost in officers’ minds is the safe resolution to volatile situations, not a medical diagnosis…(Simon Pountain)
Despite the fact many will assume, considering my background, that I am bound to be supportive of the police. Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth, especially where any wrongdoing or abuse of power is concerned. However, this almost constant vilification of our police service actually does more to reduce even further the already limited levels of support they enjoy. This now predominant trait simply serves to undermine the concept of policing by consent. A slippery slope towards the police state that so many (wrongly) believe we already reside in.
I look forward to reading and learning from the content of the BIJ articles however; there is a media tendency towards achieving the exact opposite to the desired/perceived results. As the vast majority of our police officers work for our society, not against it, isn’t it time we tried to examine the police in a far more supportive and objective manner?
- Deaths in custody ‘understated’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Number of deaths of suspects in police custody is higher than officials admit (independent.co.uk)
- Restraint techniques that have an ‘ever-present’ risk of death (independent.co.uk)
Yesterday, Theresa May MP , the Home Secretary, delivered her latest sermon from the Home Office pulpit. Her speech was billed as a “coherent ideological vision for the service in England and Wales” but, is that vision blurred by the impact of an empty public purse?
She told her audience that police reforms weren’t just about money-saving and were designed to “equip the police to face the future.” The Home Office website says; “The government’s radical programme will leave us with a police force that is answerable to the public and transformed in its ability to fight crime.”
Whether or not all the claims come to fruition remains to be seen, I have to admit I’m doubtful. But more importantly, it’s also arguable whether or not the public will actually reap the promised benefits in the long run, I for one am still to be convinced.
When people talk about public service reform it’s often through the prism of cuts. With the deficit we have, that’s understandable, but it’s just not what our police reforms are about..(Theresa May MP)
It was good to hear Ms May actually acknowledge the important role that policing holds in our society at the beginning of her speech…
The police do one of the most important jobs in this country. They do their work with great courage, great skill and great commitment. In fact, I believe Britain has the finest police officers in the world. But we can help them do their job even more effectively…(Theresa May MP)
But don’t forget, she (and many of her political cohorts), often espouse a sweetener of hollow admiration, prior to getting into the meat of party political diatribe. Being adept at saying one thing to the face of policing (and the public), is often swiftly followed by stabbing them in the back before all the hot air has even cooled, it’s a prerequisite skill of politicians!
It’s undeniable that the role, task and perception of British policing has changed immensely since Sir Robert Peel’s conception indeed, I witnessed massive change during my thirty year career, only a small part in the bigger picture however; many say (and I agree) how can you plan and implement ‘reform’ when you don’t really know what it is you are trying to improve? A question that Mark Easton of the BBC is trying to address (see below).
In March 2011, Paul McKeever, the chair of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said: “It is extraordinary that the Home Office and Government have actually followed a policy for the last few months of reforming the police service through cuts by saying they will protect the front line when they, nor anyone else, can say what that is.” A year on and little has changed, there are still many big questions around the remit, roles and responsibilities of 21st century policing.
In addition, what the public want/expect from policing despite being mostly undefined, is wholly dependent upon the diversity of differing communities and the individuals that live within them. Everything from counter-terrorism and gang ‘warfare’ in the cities, through to alcohol related incidents and anti-social behaviour in the towns and suburbs, are all within the policing remit. As are the needs of the rural community suffering from burglary, livestock and fuel theft.
Try explaining to village community groups there are insufficient police resources to protect them and their property. The reduction in funds (and police numbers) mean understanding priorities; drunks fighting and smashing windows in the town centre two or three nights per week are (arguably), more important than the possibility of Ol’ Farmer Giles getting his tractor nicked.
Many parts of policing, with differing levels of priority for politicians, the public and the police are already in decline, and have been for years.
The speech, and comment on its content, was admirably covered during the day by experts, critics and some supporters, both in the mainstream and social media forums. If there is one thing to be said for the power of the internet and modern communications; critical political matters are far more ‘in your face’ these days. Great for public engagement, not so great for politicians with a desire to try to stuff things under the door at the eleventh hour, and then say we were all consulted, I suspect.
Reading the piece written by Bernard Rix, a well-known and respected policing and public sector management consultant, entitled – Policing: “Power of the Public” – I’m mostly in agreement with many of his observations. He outlined how he believes the ‘most important’ content of the speech was the part relating to “empowering the public.”
Although I obviously find that interesting and an important issue, now I’m a retired police officer, I’m not sure I could confidently give it the highest priority, if I was still serving and being so severely financially shafted by our government?
…it does not mean that we’re happy with the outcome. Whichever way you dress it up, this will mean serious financial hardship for police officers…(Paul McKeever)
By the end of the day many, who actually have an interest in the issues, had digested the speech and offered up their own comments on the subject. But, as usual, with any political hot potato there was polarity of opinion. What too many often fail to understand is the plight of those who provide us with policing services.
They are not faceless or insignificant and generally, take pride in working hard to deliver the best possible service they can, often to their own and their family’s detriment. To add insult to injury, they’re now being financially disadvantaged as well. Writing his Chairman’s Blog on the subject, Clive Chamberlain of the Dorset Police Federation wrote…
All this means that police officers face a cut in take home pay of between 20 and 30 per cent over the next three years – more than any other group of public sector workers. Add to this the 20% cuts to the funding of the police service and loss of at least 16,000 warranted officers posts and policing is in for a challenging time. I fear the long-term losers will be our communities…(Clive Chamberlain)
Unfortunately I was unable to follow the issue ‘live’ all day and in addition, I also missed the new BBC Radio 4 series to be hosted by the BBC Home Affairs editor Mark Easton, due to work. In the program he intends to explore (and perhaps answer) the important question; “What are the police for?” He preempted the show with an excellent blog posting (see here) which set the scene about the conflicting priorities involved in policing today. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t as simple a process as many would believe.
That is a much broader description of the police’s role than cutting crime “no more and no less”. Indeed, it might be argued, Theresa May wants them to do it all – from kids tagging a lamp-post to organised criminal gangs…(Mark Easton)
So what do you think the role of the police should be? Mark’s series What Are The Police For, which started on BBC Radio 4 last night, may answer some of the questions but I guess I will have to catch up via the iPlayer!
To borrow a phrase used in recent Home Office police recruitment campaigns; Policing – Could You? There is however one thing for sure… Sir Robert Peel is turning uncomfortably in his grave!
- Theresa May outlines plans to deal with anti-social behaviour (independent.co.uk)
- Plan to curb anti-social conduct (bbc.co.uk)
- Police pay deal: Theresa May accepts £150m-a-year compromise(guardian.co.uk)
Previously I’ve spoken on the matter of racism, one of those difficult topics to talk about, without getting lambasted from every corner or, hopefully not, upsetting someone. Another subject that draws similar response is that of peoples sexuality…
I’m not and never have been a follower of football (soccer for my American readers), as far as I’m concerned, it’s just twenty-two people kicking the wrong shaped bag of wind around a field, and getting grotesque amounts of money for doing so. It does however concern me that the sport, is apparently one of the last bastions of homophobia.
I understand that apparently, there are currently around 5,000 professional footballers in Britain, that fact could probably help to clear the national debt if they were mindful to make donations to the public purse however; apparently none of them are openly gay. I’ve never really understood the individual desire, or need, to proclaim ones sexual preference from the rooftops but, if that is your want, so be it.
Still too much stigma in a (supposedly) ‘macho’ sport perhaps? But, is there a need for anyone to broadcast their sexuality from the rooftops, simply because of ‘celebrity’ status? It must be about the individuals ‘desire’ to tell, as opposed to the public’s ‘need’ to know! I’m looking forward to the program, perhaps I’ll gain better understanding of the issues…
- Gay footballers should feel free to come out, say fans (independent.co.uk)
- The ‘gay for Thierry Henry’ outpouring heralds a new openness | Paul Flynn (guardian.co.uk)
- Footie news: Homophobia in soccer is rapped by new doc (thesun.co.uk)
- The silence over gay footballers (bbc.co.uk)