I have been watching events in the US today and noticing two trends that seems to be becoming more common in both the US and UK.
I am going to cover the increased militarisation of the police in this article and the suppression of reporting in another article.
In the UK our policing is carried out by Her Majesties Constabulary, the British Police, the Bobbies. The boys (and girls) in blue walk our streets and protect us from criminals, give us directions if we are lost, help us find missing children and respond to car crashes and accidents. They are an image of safety and security, a reassurance that we are safe on our streets.
Or this could be me remembering how things where when I was young and impressionable.
Today things are somewhat different, there has been no great increase in crimes, more people are not being murdered than when I was a lad, but the image of policing has changed significantly.
These days I am surprised to actually see a constable walking the streets, generally they flash past at high speed with sirens wailing or don’t turn up at all leaving members of the public to direct traffic at an accident.
The traditional British Bobby, the sort of image I grew up with.
Compare it with Armed Police Officers patrolling a Luton housing estate not long ago, I know Luton is an unpleasant place (I used to live there) but automatic weapons seem more like a police state. This deployment was in response to several shooting incidents in that town but is indicative of the way that the British Police are trained, equipped and being seen on our streets all too often.
Tactical rigs, stab proof vests, body armour, the change from dark blue uniforms to something more reminiscent of special forces, all black clothing and menace. Police truncheons replaced by riot batons or automatic weapons. Very intimidating, very threatening, the way these men are dressed and equipped sends a clear message. Not the Bobbies from my youth.
The British Bobby is so named, named because of Robert ‘Bobby’ Peel who founded the Metropolitan British police force. Sir Robert set out some principles for Policing which are still listed today, however there are more than a few differences between Peels guidelines as reported by the Association of Chief Constables and what is happening in reality.
1: The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
2: The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
3: Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
4: The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
5: Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
6: Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8: Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary
9: The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
Go back and read number 6 and number 7 again then take another look at the picture above. How much evidence do you see of either of those principles.
Do these men in the second picture look armed and equipped to use force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient?
Do they look like they are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence?
Now honestly answer those two questions I just asked.
Over the years thanks to the War on Terror and the War on crime our UK police have become more and more militaristic. In terms of equipment and weapons the bobbies of the past are now sadly something from old films or memory. Instead we have
We are not as bad as the United states, yet.
But the water cannon will be arriving soon.
What got me thinking about this, the situation in Ferguson in the US.
One of these is a United States Marine Scout Sniper, Cpl. Sean Davis, deployed to Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban. He is on duty in a hostile situation against a well armed enemy that will not hesitate to kill any American, a war zone that has left thousands dead and where an attack could come at any time. Note that while he is providing security for a multi national unit training at camp Bastion he does not have a magazine loaded in his rifle.
The other is a US policeman in a town called Ferguson facing a group of unarmed protesters who are chanting and waving signs. He does have a magazine loaded .
But Ferguson is America, the US police are armed, they are in a country where significant numbers of the population and the criminals are armed, they need to be armed and equipped like special forces teams. They need armoured vehicles, they need loaded sniper rifles on tripods pointed at unarmed protesters.
Because, well, because America.
But is Britain as dangerous, since 2001 is it so much more dangerous for our police that they need to be equipped to fight a small war. Do the police injury figures support the significant increase in threat to our bobbies that justifies them looking like extras from a Robocop movie.
As far as I can see, no. Police casualty figures are fairly consistent.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for 2013/14 show a 15% fall in the overall rate meaning that crime had fallen by 25% since 2007-08 and by 60% since its peak level in 1995
Certain types of crimes have been increasing, shop lifting and fraud are both steadily increasing.
The murder rate, England and Wales 551, nearly 50% below the 2001-02 peak of 1,047
Robberies down 12%, gun crime down 6% and knife crime down 4%.
Gun and knife crimes down.
So if gun crimes are less common why do we see more and more armed officers, if knife crimes are steadily falling why the ever present black stab proof vests and armour?
Or is it that we are simply following the United States with its onward march of turning its police into something that is more a tool of intimidation and control rather than a body that serves and protects the public.
In the US the police are considered to be a threat, they are intimidating, well armed and in many cases, trigger happy. All of the good men and women in the American Police, the ones who are there to help and protect and serve the public, they are overshadowed by those of their number who are seen in our media today, who feel the need for armoured vehicles and automatic weapons and snipers when facing down unarmed protesters.
The public face of US policing is Ferguson.
Will this becomes the norm here in the UK?
We are seeing armed officers used more and more often even for situations that do not seem to warrant an armed police response. We see them standing at our airports, we see them at our major transport hubs, we see them in the streets of our capital.
Not responding to an emergency, just on patrol. Just standing around, watching, intimidating, controlling. All the weapons, the black armour and uniforms, the military style equipment and webbing. Just in case.
Now I know that if we need armed police then it is better to have them than to not have them, but what happened to the days of keeping them out of sight to avoid scaring the locals. What happened to living in a country where the police were friendly and approachable instead of intimidating and unapproachable.
What happened to living in a country where we our bobbies were like Dixon of dock green.