Denis O’Connor, Chief Inspector of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary used the release of his department’s inquiry into the police forces’ handling of public demonstrations to speak on the overall state of the Police. He worries that they have drifted from the true principles of policing, and as a result are losing the respect and confidence of the public.
The police force is not a gang of senseless thugs and gibbering, inept morons, but the laws, regulations and targets that bind their actions can make them appear to be. New Labour’s creation of nearly one new crime every day since 1997 has certainly helped in creating a culture where we feel restricted and watched over by the police. However, O’Connor explains that the force have more issues to contend with. Police performance and accountability is dealt with by regulators such as his own body, government offices and local partnerships. This can make things very confusing. New reports, instructions and initiatives are frequently directed at the police from bodies with differing interests and priorities. Unfortunately, this is counterproductive. The more orders and criticisms are directed at police officers, the less scope they have to use their discretion and judgment.
Independent thinking can lead to criticism and accusations of irresponsibility, so it makes much more sense for a bobby to blindly follow any instruction or precaution that could possibly be applicable in a situation. Inevitably, situations arise like the kettling of non-violent protestors for hours on end, or the death of a young boy because a PCSO had not received the training to save him from drowning in a pond. Another major problem is the imposition of centrally imposed targets, which distort incentives. The overload of instructions, advice and new laws can lead policemen to lose confidence even in their own abilities and role, or develop a distorted perception of their personal power.
In 1829 Sir Robert Peel remarked that “the police are the public and the public are the police”. Britain’s first model of the police set out an “approachable, impartial, accountable style of policing based on minimal force and anchored in public consent”. O’Connor is calling for a return to these values, and recommends the creation of universal principles to guide the police on the use of force and appropriate behavior in all areas of policing. It is sad that we cannot trust our police to figure this out for themselves. More can be done to help the force to regain focus and regain public respect. The different bodies involved in regulating and advising the police should be scaled down and simplified, and central targets should be scrapped.