The government’s resolve to reform the way in which the Police operate is being severely tested after the announcement that the former rail regulator and lawyer, Tom Winsor is to be appointed as the new Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that the government is right to appoint someone from outside of the police to oversee their activities. The situation until now has been that a senior chief constable has always held the post and has thus denied any chance of true objectivity.
Generally speaking, policemen do not like to criticise other policemen.
The Police Federation in particular, which represents rank and file officers, is protesting that the appointment of Mr Winsor is inappropriate, not least because he has no experience of policing.
From the government’s perspective however, this is battle that it cannot afford to lose. To do so would demonstrate extreme weakness, with ministers being seen as failing in the same manner as their predecessors when trying to take on the excessive power that the police have to name their own terms.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May received a rough ride at the recent police conference when it became clear that the police were no longer going to get everything that they asked for. Previously, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had both been deliberately pathetic in standing up to police demands for more money and – even more importantly – more power.
Mrs May has made it clear that she will not give in over the money but, as with her forebears, she is only to keen to give police more and more power over the rest of us, thus relieving the government of responsibility when things go wrong and the police abuse their power or break the Law themselves.
TheOpinionSite.org would like to think that Mrs May and the government were acting out of common sense and in an attempt to curb the powers of what has now been exposed by the Leveson Inquiry, the arrests and imprisonment of police personnel over the last two years and the often premature retirement of officers as being a corrupt, over-powerful and arrogant ‘public service’.
Relationships between the public and police have never been at a lower point with the public believing – one would hope, incorrectly – that all police officers are corrupt, dishonest and self-serving, only out for what they can get and not afraid to abuse the enormous power they have to wreck people’s lives whilst never being held to account themselves.
Whether one agrees with the view expressed above by so many people or not, it is hard to ignore the evidence of the last two years which have seen more and more police officers finally being brought to justice for everything from child sex assaults to handling Class A drugs whilst others have escaped justice altogether as a result of collapsed trials, dismissals from the force and a need not to bring the police into disrepute.
Maybe, had the civilian Mr Winsor already been in post, more officers would have been caught earlier. There has been little chance of that whilst the only oversight of police has been carried out by another policeman.
That the police do have too much power is a view expressed by very many people. That successive administrations have been too ready to give police that power is undeniable.
Ministers will not involve themselves in what they call the ‘operational procedures’ of the police and neither will the courts, which must interpret the ‘Will of Parliament’, all of which might seem quite reasonable and sensible (from a political point of view at least) until one realises that such a doctrine has allowed the police to do whatever they want, whenever they want and without fear of ever being brought to book over their abuse of power.
TheOpinionSite.org has been told by many people that although they are uneasy about the amount of power that the police have, there is little that can be done about it.
It is certainly true that if money was not as tight as it is, the current government, like those before it, would be throwing millions at the police and giving them even more power, even more protection from prosecution and even more, unregulated independence of action.
By contrast, in Europe, a judge oversees all police investigations and ensures that the investigators stay within the Law. In Britain, the police are allowed to do whatever they want, any misdemeanours then having to be challenged in court, usually in front of an impotent judge and a jury that is either too frightened, too biased or too ignorant to raise one word of criticism of police officers.
Now, with the appointment of Mr Winsor and the government on a collision course with police officers, there is a real chance to get these people back in harness and once again make them responsible for their actions.
There are also other objections to reform coming from the rank and file officers most likely to be affected, one of which is that all officers should undergo a ‘fitness check’ once a year. Why not test every officer’s fitness annually? A fat policeman trying to chase a fit, 19 year old burglar is of no use to anyone.
Officers don’t like the idea of taking what they see as a pay cut either. Why shouldn’t they suffer the same pain as everyone else? Policemen cannot be sacked, are probably overpaid anyway and retire at 50. Most other people on the other hand can be sacked (and frequently are), are usually underpaid and might now have to work into their 70s.
As TheOpinionSite.org has pointed out on previous occasions when policemen have thrown a tantrum because they could not get what they want, the Police are there to serve the Public – not the other way around.
If policemen don’t like being officers of the Law with all the advantages that such office brings, let them go and do something else instead. If receiving £50,000 – £160,000 a year salary is not enough for them, let them go and find it elsewhere.
If the fact that they cannot be sacked, get at least 5 weeks holiday a year and receive ‘rest days’ in addition are things not worth having, let them leave.
If the power trip they get from being able to arrest people on the merest suspicion or just because they feel like it is not a sufficient ego boost, let them become politicians instead; then they can take it out on their former colleagues, several of whom are in the House of Lords already.
The government must stand firm against the police and not weaken. If it does, ministers will be reaffirming a truth that was first revealed by Tony Blair – that the government is afraid of the police and afraid of criticising them.
Once that becomes the norm, there is little hope for the rest of us and little hope of retaining what freedom still exists in Britain – and there isn’t much of that nowadays.
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