Increasingly public opinion questions police efficiency

johnson police

Depuis les années 1980, l’efficacité du système policier et judiciaire dans le pays du Bill of Rights est remis en question. Cela tient à une particularité de la force policière qui n’est plus armée depuis 1936 mais également à un système opaque, corrompu à la fois par l’argent et le pouvoir politique. Les dernières affaires impliquant la police comme l’affaire Murdoch ou le « Plebgate » d’Andrew Mitchell ne contribuent pas à redorer le blason de la police britannique. Quelles solutions ont été envisagées et quels sont leur résultat ?

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  • What are the specificities of the British police system?

The London force was created in 1829 by Robert Peel hence the nickname of Bobbies which is the diminutive of Robert. It is a nationwide institution like Big Ben or the Beatles and it attracts thousands of tourists. The specificity of these policemen, in addition to their very original nonmilitary uniform, is that they carry nonlethal weapons. To understand why policemen don’t want to carry guns we have to back in time to when the London force and the police were created people and when people feared  the army. So the police appeared to be a security force instead of an intervention force. Today, according to a survey conducted by the Police Federation of England and Wales, 82% of the respondents declared they were against the routine arming of police. Officially, the only exception to this rule is Northern Ireland due to the IRA and terrorist attacks but there are more and more dispensations like Force Firearms Units or Armed Response Vehicles and the using of Tasers since 2004. But this cool appearance is on the decline because now it tends to look corrupt…

  • What are the scandals that affect the police?

Scandals began with the brutality of hundreds of police officers during the miners’ strikes of 1984-1985 at Orgreave under the Iron Lady’s governement. Indeed, officers arrested and charged striking miners for no reason. And to this day the list has kept growing. In 1989, the West Yorkshire Police was guilty of a vast cover-up of their crowd management failures at Hillsborough during a human crash in the football stadium which killed 96 people. Moreover, one can remember the judiciary mistake that led to the incarceration of the “Birmingham Six” for 15 years before the judge recognized they were innocent. In fact the police force seems to be corrupt and racially prejudiced. The recent scandals implicate high political circles and a level of corruption that had never been seen before. With the News of the World’s affair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson, had to resign because he was paid to provide information to the journalists like Any Coulson, a former News of the World editor who was the chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron. Finally, in the Andrew Mitchell’s scandal there are contradictory elements in the police account, which feeds a conspiracy theory by the police against the government, all the more reviled as it cut  the police budget by a lot. The icing on the cake was put by the results of a survey carried out by the Lib Dems showing that more than 1,000 policemen in the UK have criminal convictions, many of which were for violent crime. So, Nick Herbert, the former minister for police and criminal justice before the cabinet reshuffle under David Cameron, said about the police that “the cancer must be cut out before it spreads”.

  • What is the solution implemented in the United Kingdom?

To look into this phenomenon, Prime Minister David Cameron created new posts of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in November 2012. These posts were subjected to the voice of the British people with elections on November 15th. Civil candidates ran for this election. The elected commissioner is responsible for holding the force to account, for hiring and firing the chief constable. Unfortunately, the turnout was about 14.9% so the democratic aspect of this election is hugely affected. The government says PCCs will give the local population more control over policing but the results show that British citizens aren’t convinced by this solution to eradicate police corruption. Besides, opponents have warned the changes will politicize the police and create a conflict of interests between the judiciary and the executive powers. Labour politician Chuka Umunna called the election “a total shambles”, which is a perfect illustration of why in all institutional issues, politics matters.

Police corruption is part of Britain’s global institutional problem: the domination of the richer in high circles of power. Unfortunately the eradication of plutocracy isn’t about to happen any time soon.

Camille GRAVET & Maud CARRIERE

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