Stop and rethink police powers


policeIt seems that senior police officers have told ministers that they need new counter-terrorism powers to stop and search people without having to suspect them of any involvement in crime. Police, including the Met, believe they need these powers to guard against attempted attacks on big events such as the 2012 Olympics.

Hmm. As we know from bitter experience, if we give the police these powers, they will be used – and not necessarily for the purposes for which they were intended. Witness the detention, under anti-terrorism powers, of Walther Wolfgang, who dared heckle the Foreign Secretary at a Labour Party conference, or Sally Cameron who audaciously walked on a path marked as a cycle path in Dundee docks.

I actually think that it's perfectly reasonable for the police to stop us and ask what we are up to, provided they don't make a big bureaucratic deal out of it. A Canadian TV crew I was doing an interview for some months ago asked if they could do some set-up shots of me walking in the street and going into the office. Within one minute of them humping their enormous camera out onto the pavement, a squad car drew up (Westminster is the CCTV capital of the globe) and we were all asked to explain ourselves – and fill out a yellow form giving our name, address, height, sex, eye colour and probably religion.

Talk about rotten public relations. I would have had no problem with this if they had stopped us, asked us what we were doing and requested some ID, and parted with a cheery 'that's perfectly fine, thank you sir, carry on'. I would have been glad to help, and pleased that our friends in blue were so on the ball. But as it is, the bureaucracy of the exercise – though designed to prove that the police are being even handed in whom they stop – actually drives a wedge between the public and the police. It becomes an us and them situation, instead of a situation where we are all on the same side against a real threat.

We all know the police can haul us in and keep us locked up for 28 days without trial. We just don't want them to act like they can. If I believed that the police would use the powers they seek responsibly, I would have little problem over the issue. As it is, I'm not so sure.