Monday, 23 November 2009

Plodding on

As if the Boy Dave will not be under enough pressure in the event he gains a majority in the forthcoming election, he has been warned that he will face police action. Sir Hugh Orde, boss of the senior officers' union ACPO, has stated that he and a number of Chief Constables might resign if a Conservative government were to proceed with plans to bring the police under the control of elected local Commissioners. He saw this as an unwanted, and unwarranted, intrusion into how police forces operated. Cameron wants the Commissioners to have authority to hire and fire their chief police officers and to be budget controllers.

Now, I fail to connect what the Tories are intending to put into place with political control likely to have any effect on operational policing. Of course, it might be that the dismissal powers might hinge on how well the police fulfil their responsibility for maintaining law and order. But, what is so wrong with that - is it not democracy? The Commissioner might well say "I want you to do something about the gangs of feral youths terrorising pensioners on such and such an estate". I very much doubt that any publicly elected official would then go on to say how many men should be tasked, their hours and the means of control. And, even if one did go down that route, how is that interpreted as political? Cameron's intentions very likely originated after the spat involving Met boss Ian Blair and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. This did become political insofar as the then Home Secretary Busty Smith went head to head with Boris. It would not be unreasonable to say that Blair was rather partial to NuLabour ideas and politicised himself.

There have been a number of instances where the police have had full reign to do whatever they saw fit in operational terms. Not all of these reflected best practice or would appear as police manuals as perfect drills. The poor old Brazilian electrician went to his death after the police acted in accordance with a procedure where their actions allowed them to be instant judge and instant executioner. This foreign import was never discussed outside police circles. The circumstances where it would be employed - terrorism - could be understood. Maybe. Just. But, the Met were then showed to have very serious flaws in the way they went about controlling their sudden death mandate. Keeping a very vicious dog might be justified but letting one run loose in a school loses support. I am well aware that they were all cleared after an exhaustive inquiry. Here it was revealed that Blair had indulged in back-stairs contacts to bolster the actions of his storm troopers; we may not know the full extent of any other similar initiatives. Not they sort of bloke to have operational control of vicious dogs.

Another less than brilliant example of police work was the hounding into suicide and murder involving a mother and her educationally impaired daughter. Despite the fact that the attacks by local youths were in contravention of several Acts of Parliament, a senior officer said that these were merely anti-social behaviour and he was limited as to his course of action. The two deceased and a son all had serious mental and physical problems but were left to their own resources (nil) in the face of bullying gangs. This had gone on over seven years. I am sure there would have been a better result had someone been in a position to tell the police to stop faffing about and sort it out.

The police say that they are losing the respect of the general public. They have no one but themselves to blame. They have changed their appearance from good old PC Dixon to dress up like something from Star Wars. They have pressed for new legislation to ease their tasks and now issue little paper chits and impose on the spot fines. Radar guns. Tasers. A massive increase in power to stop and snoop. Yes - this has passed through the due legal processes but almost all on the nod. Can we be sure that locally elected Commissioners would not have queried these extensions of power? The 42 day thing was not a walk in the park once the politicians sat up and took notice.

I have little concern about the threat of mass resignations. I see it as an opportunity to do a little coppicing of dead wood that has grown into an aged and redundant agenda and style. No one is irreplaceable; even more so in a quasi-disciplined organisation where every Chief Constable has a deputy in place. And the deputy has an Assistant. Management of manpower in such circumstances is very easy.

Sir Hugh has also made a point about what he deems as political failure to merge the 43 or so constabularies into mega-forces set up to prioritise their anti-terrorism work. We have central resources that do this - MI5 and the relatively new Organised Crime Agency - and they would not be likely to benefit from another fish in their pool. I would imagine that Super Cops are even more likely to cause a feeling of estrangement from Joe Public.

I have come to the conclusion that Orde is quite happy to get involved in politics - when the issue is one he supports. His time at PSNI will have involved a large amount of wheeling and dealing with the Northern Ireland variant of politicians. Nuff said.

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