Friday, 20 September 2013


Last Sunday Peter Hitchens wrote a piece for the Mail on Sunday entitled "Get rid of the guns, cars and Tasers and we might just end up with real policemen". 

On initial reading I found it difficult to establish the central thrust of the article but anticipated that as a conduit to provoke a furore it was probably doomed to succeed. I resisted the temptation to enter the fray and opted instead to make a large pan of mushroom soup. This felt more constructive.

I have since re read the original piece and the subsequent commentary in Peter's blog where he develops his argument that the police service has essentially become remote from communities, lost sight of its founding goals and become a belligerent para military force led by a liberal elite who have colluded since the mid 1960s to dismantle Peel's model of policing.

This hypothesis is supported by extensive historical research and analysis and has been outlined in a number of publications in recent years by Peter. This commentary on policing is central to a range of Peter's arguments about the 'state' of Britain and public services in particular. To argue that Peter is unfamiliar with policing and that he is presenting a case from a position of ignorance is therefore folly.

His personal interpretation of events and developments in policing is well articulated from a particular perspective; his ideological and philosophical stance about the role of the state vis-à-vis the citizen is equally well documented.

But, let's be clear. However well researched and presented these arguments may be they remain Peter Hitchens' view of the world. And as I am sure he would concede he makes no claim to have a monopoly on the truth. He is presenting an argument. It is beholden on those who disagree to present an alternative case for policing and not simply become agitated at the idea of someone having a different outlook.

The fact that Peter's view of policing is promulgated in a mass circulation newspaper may be irritating to those who disagree but it doesn't alter his right to have a view, even if he's wrong.

And for the record I believe he is wrong in his analysis and conclusions about policing and in the tone of the article.

I have always been and expect to remain wedded to Peel's Principles of Policing. I don't think there will ever be a better mission statement. I agree with Peter's description of policing moving away from preventative models and that linked to changes in technology policing has become more remote in the last forty years. But we then part company.

I believe that the 'rediscovery' of neighbourhood policing and the self evident truth that policing is better delivered locally, in partnership and with communities remains at the heart of British policing. It is at risk in these times of austerity but the service can and should make choices to invest in this the most visible foundation of policing by consent.

Having spent a day in court this week where a police officer was sent to prison for misconduct in public office I don't need reminding that policing is not perfect. The fact that I sat in the court with the detectives who tenaciously pursued their fellow officer for his betrayal of their oath reminded me that for all those who would seek to undermine policing there are legions who will seek to support it.

But as a service we need to recognise legitimate challenge and criticism and seek every opportunity to learn and improve. Many outside policing would contend that this is an impossible ask for us as a service. I know that seeking to be the best and to learn from mistakes is every day business for the vast majority.

We need to continue to listen and we need to be less defensive.

Peter Hitchens' argument may be predicated on sound research principles but by his own account they are limited in reality. Patrol with colleagues in a London borough combined with ride alongs in Johannesburg and Dallas will undoubtedly give an insight into policing but not, in my view, one that can be used as the basis of a sustained critique on the complexities and challenges of policing modern Britain.

I recognise the need to use compelling anecdotes to colour an argument but this should not be confused with evidence.

The focus on vehicles, helicopters and uniforms is perhaps the most intriguing section of the article. I want to see more officers on patrol out and about in local communities. I also need them to respond to 999 calls and to deploy to critical incidents. As ever there is a balance to be struck and I recognise the concerns of many communities that policing is too remote.

We need to do better.

But flogging the helicopter and scrapping fast response cars will not advance the case for policing to become more responsive to local needs and to rediscover the Peelian Principles. It's an easy target that fails to recognise the range of responsibilities that policing has to contend with.

Even Sir Robert accepted that crime would need to be responded to and investigated notwithstanding the primary goal being prevention. Significant resources are committed to the investigation of crime - much of it unseen or understood by the wider public. Again we need to revisit how the police service explains the challenges it confronts on behalf of communities to ensure that the reality of modern policing is not undermined by docudramas, TV detectives or lazy journalism.

I am sure when George Dixon was patrolling Dock Green and Rumpole was defending loveable rogues at the Old Bailey it was still the case that someone somewhere was dealing with threats to national security and serious and organised crime. These threats are not exaggerated. I sincerely wish they were.

And so to sartorial matters. Uniform and personal protective equipment is an emotive subject. I know. I chair a Uniform and Equipment Group across two forces!

The challenge for me is not the colour of the shirts but the collective failure to procure nationally and agree universal standards. The protective equipment officers wear has developed in response to the evidence and risks associated with their roles.

I marvel at the nostalgia for truncheons, capes and shackles that somehow would enable us to reconnect with the public. Let's not forget some facts.

Over 90% of British police remain unarmed.

I don't feel like I am in a para military service. I fully accept that if you inhabit the Westminster bubble you will see a disproportionate number of colleagues overtly armed but this is a tiny minority of policing.

On a personal note I am not unfamiliar with Peter Hitchens' accusation that I and many others in policing represent a 'liberal elite'. I have been called many things as a police officer and although I sense that this is not a positive endorsement I prefer it to ‘totalitarian elite’!

I am not a journalist and I have a rule about not telling other people how to do their jobs.

I welcome the opportunity to be challenged about policing and I believe I should be scrutinised and held to account. So, I wish that Peter Hitchens' perfectly legitimate right to promulgate opinions on policing could have been written so as to invite more discourse and discussion rather than polarising opinion but it is not for me to dictate how opinions are shaped and expressed.

The opportunity to use evidence in support of an argument has been lost in anecdote and ideology. It could have been different but as in many things it's about making the right choice and I fear there was an overwhelming desire to add to the already overburdened bandwagon.


In my subsequent exchanges with Peter Hitchens, via his blog and in response to my article in Police Oracle, he has developed his arguments on policing and the approach being taken by the service. We both remain unpersuaded by our respective arguments. I have decided to agree to disagree but am always hopeful for a Damascene conversion!

He is also quick to point out that his commentary on policing, not a new phenomena, has elicited a hostile response. I have seen some of these exchanges and I would suggest that those who have sought to demonise Hitchens for expressing a view, however much they may consider him wrong, have not served the cause of policing well on this occasion.

There is a significant minority of hostility towards the police service across society with a range of motivations. We need to win them back in the battle for legitimacy. Focusing on the substance of the challenges, arguing for what we believe to be right for the service while listening to those who may disagree, is a must going forward.