Policing divorced from the public
Internet paedophile stings are becoming an increasingly common occurrence. There have been two in Canterbury in the last month, another in Faversham earlier this summer and another at Bluewater at start of the year.
In light of such incidents, the police necessarily have to warn against it. Obviously, it doesn’t look so good when people armed with nothing more than a fake social media profile and a camera can do the job of identifying a potential child abuser and gathering the evidence against him.
The subtext to such activity, however, needs some examination. Except where law enforcement agencies feel the need to make loud statements about their activities – such as posting armed officers outside Canterbury Cathedral or making self-serving pronouncements on the “hate crime epidemic” – we are witnessing them increasingly recede from view.
Stepping into the vacuum are private citizens who recognise that they must now do some of the work themselves.
Just look at the city’s legions of door supervisors and the work they do in fighting crime.
They use body-worn video equipment to gather evidence, confiscate drugs, break up fights, calm down people in arguments and protect women who may find themselves being harassed or stalked.
We have two private patrols operating in busy parts of the city. The Street Marshals scheme aims to reduce disorder and noise as students make their way home through residential areas. The Citywatch scheme functions in central Canterbury, alerting police and CCTV operators to incidents or trying to defuse potential flare-ups.
There are a variety of reasons why the police are, as I said, receding from view. One is that we have overstretched and under-resourced forces, often limiting officers’ attention to the most serious incidents. They also spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with people who have mental health or substance misuse problems, as well as mediating between warring – often drunken – couples.
But one of the most significant factors for this trend is cultural. Sir Robert Peel’s 1829 vision of the police as “citizens in uniform” seems a remote ideal these days. What Peel was effectively saying was not just that the police stand as close as possible to the citizens they serve and protect, but that they are a uniformed reflection of the public.
The seventh of his nine policing principles states: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
The trouble is that for the last 100 years we have seen the relentless expansion of the state and its bureaucracies. History teaches that wherever this has happened, the state increasingly begins to pursue its own goals rather than what it regards as the parochial or petty needs of the population it is supposed to serve.
For example, speak to anyone living in central Canterbury and ask them what they want from a police force. Most just want visible officers to deter criminality and deal with the vandals, aggressive drunks and shoplifters who daily blight our lives.
Listen, however, to any senior police officer or prosecutor or Home Office representative and you will hear not the tongue of the common man, but the clanking jargon-infested language of managerialism.
The divorce between police and public is worsened by politicians who demand that law enforcement bends to whatever fashionable causes they have adopted.
Today’s “hate crime epidemic” has been entirely fabricated by politicians and special interest pressure groups, most of whom were sent into paroxysms of fury by last year’s vote to leave the EU.
As with so much else in the criminal justice system, we see with policing the replacement of what actually worked with what sounds good.
It’s time for the police, CPS and Home Office not to regard themselves as above and separate to citizens, but to re-attune themselves to ordinary people. Otherwise, it’s clear that citizens not in police uniform will have to do more and more of the law enforcement work they actually need.
Is that either fair or on them or what society really wants?
Street Marshals on patrol and right, Sir Robert Peel, founder of the police service, who stressed that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’