A senior officer asked me this week what areas of policing the police were getting right—and I could not reply. I could not think of one.
I was brought up in the 1950s and taught by my parents that you could trust a policeman—if you ever needed help, you could go to a police officer and they would do what they could to help. However, that is just not possible any more, is it? I doubt many parents teach their children that particular trope.
I am not alone in my distrust. Trust in the police is extremely low, which is very concerning, and I am glad the new commissioner has picked up on that aspect. I do not doubt that he has a difficult job to do, as more and more reports come in of very poor decisions by officers, whether that is policing protests by arresting journalists, being in WhatsApp groups that show racism, homophobia and sexism or even state-sponsored crimes that officers have committed—when undercover, for example, especially the spy cops who infiltrated campaigns through abusive misogynistic relationships with women campaigners. That inquiry has been drawn out for many years, partly because the Met have not co-operated in releasing vital information. It has preferred to protect officers’ criminal actions.
The new commissioner has vowed to improve recruitment, conduct and discipline in the force. All those aspects are relevant. For example, the issues of police violence towards women, sexism and misogyny need dealing with urgently. Officers need training and supervision as well as punishments for infringements, and the Met needs support for whistleblowers. The behaviour of Wayne Couzens over a period of many years, which was accepted and joked about by other officers, is a dire warning of widespread bigotry and very disturbing conduct being allowed.
A senior officer asked me this week what areas of policing the police were getting right—and I could not reply. I could not think of one. It is entirely possible that the two units I massively supported when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority during the 12 years of its existence, the traffic unit and the wildlife crime unit, are still doing a superb job. I trust that they are. They were both amazing and the public pretty much supported them.
The Government have a role here, of course; they cannot leave the police to do this on their own. Legislation has to be clear. I think one of the factors in the police losing public support in lockdown was the fact that the Government poured on laws, guidance and advice that often conflicted, and therefore the police were quite often left not knowing what the appropriate tool was to do their job. That really did not help. It created a lot of conflict between police and public.
I argue that the Public Order Bill is a good example of what the Government should not be doing. It has been drafted poorly. There are all sorts of weird gaps in it and some very confused terms which will not help the police to police protests. The Bill is designed to prevent protests and stifle dissent, most currently about the climate crisis, but we all know that emissions are not slowing. Scientists warn of a possible permanent collapse of our food and water supply, and of civilisation itself. Our Government are quelling the dissent not by acting and improving on the situation with things that would, in the long term, save massive amounts of public money; they are dealing with the symptom, which is people going out on the streets and saying, “This isn’t right”. The police are having to deal with problems caused by the Government and become distracted by the real crime committed by the Government themselves.
Read the whole debate here