Friday, August 24, 2007

An Issue of Trust

Jackart, at A Very British Dude has come across a clip which highlights one of the many things going wrong with the police forceservice today:

I quite liked the exhortation in the original posting to "watch this simian thug and the slack-jawed chavette of a sidekick with her hands in her pockets, and tell me the police are the servants of the people". On further reflection though I'm not sure that monkeyboy and chavette are entirely to blame for their stupid mistake of making up fictitious law as they go along. Sadly there does seem to be a change in the attitudes of the police that goes all the way to the top, and it's not entirely surprising that some less able officers at the coalface take their queues from them.

There have been a succession of demands from the police for sweeping new powers, calls that the current government, with its penchant for control freakery, tend to be sympathetic to. Calls for extended powers of detention without trial have been made in a fairly public way, for example. I feel on these type of issues organisations like the Association of Chief Police officers have crossed the line into politics far too often, but at least the debate has been in the public domain. More insidious have been the subtle changes that were lobbied for, and incorporated at the last minute into Acts such as various Criminal Justice Acts, and legislation such as that for ID cards, once the general Media spotlight had dimmed.

A case in point would be the ability of the police to trawl the National Identity Register for fingerprints. In its original form this power was substantially restricted to only case of the direst need; by the time the act was passed most meaningful control had been removed. It followed a similar path down which the regulation of the collection of DNA samples passed some time ago. You can only take samples from those accused of serious arrestable offences? No problem, just wait a while and make nearly all offences arrestable.

Good policing depends on the trust and faith of those being policed. It's a lesson current senior members of the police service have forgotten, other than in the case of specific minority groups. The increasing crass handling of the concerns of people outside of these groups could come at a very heavy price.

When I was in my late twenties I would generally say that most of my peers generally had a great deal of respect for the police, other than the odd bit of frustration over the occasional motoring offence. A decade later, probably at an age where people in times gone by would have been putting aside any youthful distrust of the police, the same kind of reasonable people seem as a whole to have an ever increasing distrust of the service.

A few weeks ago I met a group of friends who were chatting to an off duty police officer in one of the local pubs. He was of our age, and seemed a decent enough bloke, but the feeling of 'them and us' was palpable, even in a midst of as middle a class, law abiding, middle of the road group as you are likely to find anywhere. After he left, the use of certain epithets for his profession that I've always tried to avoid became the norm.

The police need to start to see themselves as others see them, and it's the people at the top who need to open their eyes first, otherwise they will end up with more generations of the type of officer the video clip showed.

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