Friday, 30 May 2008
The Police we want - not the Police Labour think we deserve
Watching vintage British films, youngsters may be struck by the seemingly absurd way in which police officers are depicted. Margaret Rutherford, as lady of the manor, instructs the village plod to guard something and he doffs his helmet and replies 'Yes ma'am, right away ma'am' before exiting screen right and clipping an urchin a swipe around the ear as he goes.
Pah. Anyone under 40 will know that in reality Rutherford would have been thrown across the bonnet of the police car, squirted with CS gas, handcuffed and arrested under s.44 of the Terrorism Act for Being in Possession of a Posh Voice in a Public Place (to mimic plod's capitalisation).
The report from Civitas will therefore tell us nothing we don't already know, but as with much of Civitas' excellent work provides a rigorously well researched evidential foundation for it.
The time is long overdue to reverse some of the corrosive effects of the 1964 Police Act; part of the problem is that police forces have become too big. The 1960 Royal Commission found that forces of 500 officers policing areas with a population of 250,000 - about the size of a London borough - were feasible. Today, with modern radio and digital communications, this is even more the case. Smaller, locally accountable forces, funded directly from local taxes, are the way ahead.
The role of magistrates, too, needs reform. Lay magistrates are rooted in the communities they serve, and access to the Magistrates' Court directly by the police, rather than through the dreadful CPS, should be restored. The other role for magistrates, as members of the local Watch Committee that oversees local policing, was also valuable and needs to be brought back. Sitting with democratically elected local councillors and one or two co-opted lay members (including perhaps the Harbourmaster of a local port, or the CO of a military base in the area), Watch Committees bring a valuable and above all local direction to policing. They are greatly preferable to elected Chief Constables.
Above all, the police must be accountable not to the Home Secretary but to the communities they serve; as I've always said, the shorter the route between my wallet and plod's pay packet the easier he'll understand who's employing him and why.