“The police are not your friends”
This was the cheery warning from @kevinward76 in response to a tweet from me about whether the police are policing for communities or corporations. His reply in full was: “Neither – the police operate on behalf of the state. The police are not your friends.”
Elsewhere I’ve blogged about the dilemma facing me (and, I expect, others like me); the police – over time – have stopped seeming like the enemy to me and have become respected colleagues. Now suddenly they are back on what I see as the wrong side in our current national debate. I am struggling to feel solidarity with the police service, even though I’m sure they face as much ignorant, high-handed and wasteful policy-mischief as local government children’s services (my own field). Instead I am starting to feel a tribalistic urge to distance myself; to position myself ‘inside the kettle, facing out’.
The lovely and fair-minded @1stEmma who tweets and blogs in support of the police service against government cuts (http://www.protectourpolice.co.uk/) has engaged in many friendly twitter discussions with me about the role of policing in current times and always emphasises the necessity of ‘policing with consent’. This is summed up well here on the Civitas website: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/policeNine.php These ‘Principles of Good Policing’, lifted from Charles Reith’s ‘A Study of Police History’ and attributed to the original 19th century commissioners of the Metropolitan Police remind us that “the police are the public, and the public are the police”.
I don’t know the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, but because of the events there coming to public attention in the past 36 hours, I have looked at a range of video, photographic and written material, both about the so-called ‘Tesco Protest Riot’ and about the community itself. Some of the most interesting detail is from local residents, pre-dates the ‘riots’ and describes and values the creative and economic value of this ‘alternative’ community, bringing life and colour to an otherwise abandoned area of the city.
All city-dwellers will recognise the trajectory of this tale and see it mirrored in their local environment; areas that are abandoned and neglected – sometimes for years – are appropriated by alternative communities who enrich them with artistic endeavour, small-scale local commerce and community projects; these new and vibrant developments attract a certain cachet, improve the land-value of a previously blighted location and the developers move in because the pickings are now richer.
If the police are operating ‘on behalf of the state’ then it’s no surprise that they should line up to protect a shop-front but be sanguine about using their batons against people; it’s clear that our current government (and, for that matter, its predecessor) values big business over ordinary people every time. However, the police service can choose to honour the principles of good policing, of which this one seems most apt right now:
To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.