Who polices the police?
Harry Scott-Munro, Online Sport Editor, looks at the increasing breakdown of trust in the police force from the British public, after nearly 12 months of restrictions on people’s lives.
Many things have been taken or lost in the last 12 months in the name of public health; freedom of speech, freedom to protest, the right to see your significant other, to name but a few. One thing stands out though, and that is the increasing loss of trust and faith in the police forces of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It shouldn’t need to be said. However, for context before I continue, I have the upmost respect for the police officers who genuinely aim to protect and serve the community. Both of my parents and indeed one of my step-parents are former police officers and, when I have needed assistance from the police force, the officers I have encountered have carried out their job with care and consideration to my circumstances.
I am not attacking all police officers in any way, I am merely pointing out and highlighting how the actions of a minority of over-zealous officers, a lack of clarity over rules and advice and the speed of social media, has caused a loss of trust in the police; something that may prove irreversible.
Over the past 12 months, we have seen clips online of officers acting in a heavy-handed manner with citizens, issuing fines that were not necessary and, in Scotland, forcing entry into the homes of citizens under the pretence that a ‘crime’ may have been committed. We have seen police officers, after being called by supermarkets, remanding individuals for attempting to say that they are exempt from certain legislation, such as the wearing of facemasks, as well as trying to dictate to shops what they can and can’t sell. It all feels slightly sinister to say the least.
The role of the police is to protect and serve. They are, at the end of the day, there to ensure the safety of the general public, there to serve and help. Not, as has become more common over the previous months, to enforce and intimidate.
Rightly, the increased number of officers joining the force should be applauded. But, how many of them are truly ready for frontline policing? How many of them are truly getting into policing for the right reasons? An officer of 20 years’ experience is far more equipped to assess risk factor and how to deal with a member of the public that is simply minding their own business, than one with minimal experience and no expertise.
I will again stipulate that large numbers of these instances do not represent the majority of police officers and that social media can at times blow things out of proportion. But, when a police force is using its social media presence to act as ‘Big Brother’ over those it is supposed to protect and serve; that is when you have a problem.
Recent events have hammered this point home even more so than normal. For all the calls for the resignation of Cressida Dick and the justified anger at the handling of those in attendance at the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard, the officers in attendance were simply following orders, doing what they have been told to do in breaking up protests, however peaceful, under Coronavirus legislation.
There is rank hypocrisy here though. People have rightly condemned their actions at the vigil. However, where were these public criticisms when an elderly lady was carried spread-eagled by officers into the back of a police van for simply protesting on her own outside parliament? Where was the anger when the police broke up anti-lockdown demonstrations in London? You cannot be selective in your anger, in the same way as the police cannot be selective in how they police events. They took a knee to BLM, danced with the Extinction Rebellion protesters, yet used heavy-handed measures at the vigil and against those who as a whole, have peacefully protested lockdowns. That right to protest is being eroded in front of our eyes and the danger of this cannot be overstated.
when a police force is using its social media presence to act as ‘Big Brother’ over those it is supposed to protect and serve; that is when you have a problem.
Nonetheless, I do feel sorry for the officers on the streets. They are simply being used as sacrificial lambs, forced into acting in a fashion akin to a militia for a government and senior management machine that is spiralling out of control.
Every officer at the vigil was following orders in stopping it from occurring. Yes, that was wrong, yes the actions of some officers were over the top, but we can’t forget that they were enforcing the law as espoused to them by senior management, off the back of policy implemented by the Home Secretary without full parliamentary approval. We can’t forget that the decision to respond in this manner would’ve been approved by senior management, who have then in the days since, washed their hands of the consequences.
The majority of police officers are genuinely good people, caring about their job and protecting civilians. You will always have bad apples in any walk of life and officers are no different. The major issue though, is how they are being ordered to act by senior officers and by extension, the Mayor and Home Secretary.
All sides of the political spectrum now seem to be aligned in the view that respect and trust in policing in Britain has been lost, despite this not being the direct fault of officers on the streets. As this slippery slope continues, incidents such as Saturday evening will make it increasingly difficult to reclaim that trust.