18 Aug 2007

Policing by Consent...

A fundamental cornerstone of successful law and order in Britain has always been the concept of ‘Policing by Consent’. Perhaps our increasing lawlessness (actual or perceived), particularly amongst the young, is due to an underlying decrease in that level of Consent? The nine principles laid out by Charles Reith in A New Study of Police History gave a clear description of the philosophy of ‘policing by consent’. (Edited below)

1. To prevent crime and disorder.

2. The power of the police to fulfil their functions is dependent on public approval.

3. Securing / maintaining approval of the public requires willing co-operation of the public in observance of laws.

4. The extent to which the public co-operate diminishes proportionately to the use of physical force.

5. Preserving public favour requires the absolute impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of individual laws.

6. Only use physical force when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

7. Maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public.

8. Strictly adhere to police functions and refrain from authoritatively judging guilt.

9. Recognise the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder.

Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the first joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, had the conception that the police force was; ‘unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation’.

So, if the police are failing society and loosing their consent surely our understanding and adherence to the nine principles must be deteriorating? If so, whose fault is it? I would argue that it is society itself who are in many ways responsible and, their opinion in turn drives government. So, perhaps there is a need for police reform?

In 2004, a Sunday Times article an American sociologist Charles Murray argued, because of public opinion, there was a case for retributive justice. The principle being that, the criminal justice system should “primarily punish criminals for the harm they have inflicted on their victims”. It went on to say, “reforming criminals or preventing further crimes by incarceration is secondary to that function”. Yes, there is a need to punish the ‘criminal’ however perhaps Murray misses the point in that, not all people who break laws are actually criminal.

Issue 228 of the Socialist Review in 1999 asked: Can the police be reformed? They thought not by saying, “we have a more militarised police force than ever. Just as successful reformism becomes a dream of the past, so does successful policing by consent”. Yes the publication has extreme left wing tendencies and, is often biased about the police, seeing us as protectors of the rich and punishers of the poor, so I can only agree with them to a point. The article also suggests that, “the police cannot be reformed in any fundamental way, unless there is a wholesale assault on society”.

“We believe it is vital if reform is to take place that it is carried out on a basis of service effectiveness not just financial efficiency. The public must be left with an improved, more effective force that is able to provide a better service”. Jan Berry, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales

The methodology of our government’s Police Reform programme has extolled the virtues of Neighbourhood Policing however, their target driven performance culture often precludes us from this ideal. The Police Federation also support the principle; “Community policing, today, is a political rarity: it is something supported by all three main parties, backed by both tabloids and broadsheets and, most important of all, demanded by the general public.

The inherent belief (perceived or actual) that our society is lawless has, in many ways been bolstered by public opinion which in turn, has been pumped up to a frenzy by media hype. Our society is not as lawless and criminal as some would have us believe. The Police in Britain often have major success in dealing with the ‘real criminals’ in our society, where we are actually failing the public is in the control of Anti Social Behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour is; any activity that impacts on other people in a negative way. Despite a 39% drop in the incidence of crime since 1995, anti-social behaviour remains a serious issue with around 66,000 reports of ASB made to authorities each day (Source: One day count of anti-social behaviour: September 10 2003).

The ASB issue, as recent media reports confirm, is a major problem in our society. Booze fuelled yob culture is taking over our streets, why is this? Simple, police resources do not and cannot meet actual demand. Our ability to cover the 24/7 response aspect of our remit has been seriously eroded. This is a direct consequence of the government Police Reform programme and its subsequent application by some Chief Constables.

Any Police Officer who joined the force ‘to provide a service’ fully understands the concept of Community Policing. This is the way we have always done our job, until the intervention of politicians that is! Yes, some of the more urban forces may have partially lost sight of the concept but in many ways, this in itself was due to demand. The demand that saw limited resources that only ever interacted with the social miscreants of society. However, to suggest a one size fits all reform process for Neighbourhood Policing Teams was fundamentally flawed. The actual establishment of many forces precludes success and, in many ways, has set them up for failure.

Where is the way forward? The government must stop interfering with police services, they must stop dictating procedure to the police, they must remove their target driven performance measurements after all, these targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are only there to adorn the CV of individual politicians or political parties. Police officers and their Chief Constables must be left to Police by Consent!

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