Thursday, 12 June 2014

Water cannon. Policing by consent becomes policing for control.


As you drive up Wakefield Road out of Bradford towards the Motorways, you come to a large roundabout on the ring road. And besides this roundabout is an incredibly ugly, brick building with small windows. This is what passes in our city for a police station - the same style of architecture was used the the stations at Nelson Street, Toller Lane and Keighley. These are big buildings dominating the area, bristling with antennae and edged by steel gates and spikes - the Lubyankas of West Yorkshire.

I have felt for some while now that these buildings sum up the relationship between the police 'service' and the local community. Indeed, if you enter these huge buildings you will find yourself in a claustrophobic, camera-ridden entrance cupboard complete with dire warning notices and an unfriendly glass screen behind which is a police officer. Everything about the place - and the police - tells you that you are either unwelcome or to be feared. The idea of an approachable, neighbourhood force is destroyed by these ugly anonymous blocks.

Time was when there was a police house in your village - there was in Cullingworth and I recall visiting a university friend who was village bobbie in a place called Wickham Bishops. But it has gone now - sold off by the force and replaced (if you're lucky) by the occasional drive by of some coppers and perhaps a PCSO patrolling. If you were in a town or a suburban centre, you'll have had a bigger cop shop. It was a reassuring sight with its blue light and open door behind which was a desk and a slightly overweight sergeant with a big smile. These have gone, sacrificed on the altar of efficiency and the preference of police management for control rather than engagement or co-operation.

There was a time when you didn't - except from ne'er-do-wells - hear stories of police intolerance. But now you can read a story like the one Mary Wakefield reported in The Spectator - where one good citizen was cold shouldered by the cops for seeking their help with some first aid for a stricken woman. It is a sorry state when a conservative-inclined magazine tells these sort of tales.

And this isn't a one off - I recall a Cullingworth resident who seeing a couple of officers parked by the roadside popped across to tell them about some drug dealing that had been going off behind the primary school. Rather than thanking this woman, the police officer's response was to ask "have you been drinking" and then to say "ring the number on the side of the car". The woman in question is a middle-aged tee-totaller (yes Cullingworth has one or two) who was out with her friend walking the dogs.

This isn't to say that all police officers are rude and intolerant - at the local level I find them pretty responsive and helpful most of the time. But the obsession of senior officers with 'anti-social behaviour', the willingness to hassle legitimate businesses and the seeming preference for arresting people who've been rude on twitter rather than real criminals all reinforce the sense of a service that has lost its way, forgotten that it is a service not an instrument of social control.

Hardly a day goes by without some grand policeman popping up to call for more powers, more resources or more equipment. Faster cars, helicopters, boats, planes, fancy radio systems, super computers, explosive tools for breaking down doors and sprays or tasers in case the public get too close. And now the police - I'm sure they're so excited about this - are going to get water cannon courtesy of oh-so-liberal jolly boy, Boris Johnson. Second-hand water cannon from the Germans who are getting rid of then because of safety fears.

Forgive me if I am not dancing with joy at this decision. And don't wave opinion polling in my face either - since when did we make decisions on policing or criminal justice on the basis of opinion polls? This decision - ghastly and illiberal as it is - represents another backwards step, a further withdrawal from the idea of a police force that is part of the community. Another illustration that the police now see their purpose as to control the population, to keep us in order rather than to serve us. The consequence of this change - made worse by the police not really having enough to do - is that the idea of 'policing by consent' has finished and is replaced with policing for control. We are not a better society for this change.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not aware that Boris Johnson is a policeman, I believe he's just a politician.
But Boris is somewhat smarter than your average top Met policeman (not too difficult), as he knows there's some serious politics stuff coming down the line, so he needs his staff (the Met Police) equipped so that when, for example, a very large bank fails (no names, maybe just 3 letters), the bank deposit guarantee isn't applied, but instead that nice Mr Osborne uses his new powers to impose a special 'tax' so that his HMRC can grab it directly from bank accounts to bail-in the failed bank and other dominoes - that's the point when Boris will definitely need his second-hand German water-pistols, big time, and he knows it.
Remember where you read it first.