Friday, 2 April 2010

Confidence and the Police

Photo by Iain Winfield

A year on from the G20 protests in London and still the police have yet to be held responsible for their appalling handling of the demonstrations in the City. Earlier this week, Delroy Smellie walked free from court despite video evidence clearly showing he assaulted Nicola Fisher close to the Bank of England. And, lest we forget, justice is still outstanding for the family of Ian Tomlinson.

Throughout much of the discussion I've seen online, both at the time and to this day, one word that crops up regularly is that of 'confidence': as in we no longer have a shred of it in the actions undertaken by the police. It makes sense at first - surely we should have confidence in the police to fulful their duties - but I fear using such a term blurs the issue somewhat.

Confidence implies trust, which in turn implies leaving the police to do their job and simply hoping they do it well. This doesn't go far enough though and simply upholds the current situation which is still open to abuse.

At the Blackheath Climate Camp we saw the police take a less offensive approach to protest in an effort to restore this confidence. For the overly trusting and easily placated it worked, but many activists, photographers and other members of the public are still badly treated.

As I said in a previous post about stop and search powers, even if the law were to change, belligerent attitudes that lead to power abuses are still rife within the police. Likewise, if the police were to begin behaving pleasantly again and win back our confidence the construction of the force and the framework in which they reside remains the same - ie, one in which we simply hope they don't do wrong.

The radical anti-authoritarian inside me says we should get rid of the police altogether but that would be ridiculous and clearly isn't going to happen. Instead, they should be transparent and accountable to us with more power in the hands of the citizenry to haul them across hot coals when they do wrong. The ridiculous concept of holding themselves to account through the IPCC should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Transparency is useless though while there are laws and regulations that place unnecessary, unjust or easily abused powers in their hands, such as anti-terror legislation. These too should be scrapped or amended. They should be the servants of the people not of the government or big business.

Likewise though, I struggle to see this happening anytime soon. As one Fitwatch blogger commented, it is up to us to hold the police to account. We need to be more vigilant, we need to turn the tables on them, keep up the hard work and investigation such as that which cleared Jake Smith's name. Partaking in Fitwatch activities and documenting abuses at protests is invaluable.

Regaining confidence is a half-hearted measure, rather it should be about doing the job properly, fairly and justly and rueing the consequences if they fail in their duty. We gave them the power, we should be able to take it back.


  1. When I was at the #DEBill protests last week, there was the usual crowd of police there.
    Despite the majority of us being long haired, greasy geeks - they obviously regarded us as less likely to cause trouble than the hippies they usually have to deal with.

    As one walked by, I asked (quite politely) if he was allowed to take a leaflet. He stopped, thought for a second, then said "Yeah, I'll take one." He wandered off reading it.

    That's literally the first time I've seen a polite and interested policeman at a protest.

    And it made all the difference to me.

    I went from being very wary of them, to realising that they were standing about on a freezing evening making sure that we didn't do anything silly (fair enought) and that no one threw things at us.

    That's all it takes. A little bit of humanity.

    The vast majority of protesters don't hate the police. I think we all realise that they have a tough job. But when no one in authority listens to your chants - it's easy to turn them against the nearest symbol of the state.

    For their part, the police only ever seem to see crusty weirdos shouting and screaming at them. That can't be pleasant - and no doubt gives them the same animosity towards protesters that protesters feel towards them.

    I take slight issue with your statement "We gave them the power, we should be able to take it back." - Yes, we should have effective police regulation but, more than that, we have to make them *want* to be nice to us.
    I've always said that the best way to avoid getting beaten up at a protest is to wear a suit. Go buy a cheap suit from Oxfam, wash your hair free of dye, and then go on your march.

    The readers of the Daily Hate don't care if some tie-died, hippie with dreadlocks is getting beaten up - but they *do* care if someone who looks like them is getting oppressed by the state.

    Being kind to your "enemy" is hard - possibly the hardest thing there is. But it's what makes us civilised. If we want the police to respect us, we have to make the first move by respecting them. That doesn't mean deference; just basic courtesy.

    And look like you're their accountant, obviously.

  2. We just need to replace police officers with police men/women.

    common law is the foundation of society, not corporate ... well, so we're lead to believe.