‘We may fairly pronounce that the country has outgrown her police institutions.’ This declaration was made by Conservative home secretary Sir Robert Peel In 1828, as part of a speech about policing. This speech was less a catalyst for radical changes in power structures, more the preamble to a ‘new’ Metropolitan police force, one that became the model for policing across England. While we agree with Peel’s sentiments on public mood, almost 200 years later Operation Withdraw Consent are not calling for more police to fix the problem of policing but radical systemic overhaul. Peel’s 9 Peelian principles of policing stated that officers should reflect the communities they served. They also said that officers would carry out their duties in an impartial, professional and fair manner. The past few years have shown that the police force is more like a racist boys club, for those who despise the working class, than an impartial, inclusive and professional organisation.
2020 was a year that changed a lot more than our workspace. Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic confining us to our homes for most of the year, there was a seismic shift in the way that the public viewed the police. This became apparent when we were subjected to the heavy-handed policing of any movements perceived as non-essential or deviating from our once-daily exercise allowance. The police handed out COVID fines like smarties to working-class people driving to access green spaces because they didn’t have gardens. Yet, Dominic Cumming’s jaunt halfway to Barnard Castle ‘to test his eyesight’ was overlooked. It was at this point the public’s own eyes began to open and they’ve not shut since.
That summer’s Black Lives Matter movement brought with it statistics showing that Black people were twice as likely to be fined for lockdown violations than white people. We saw the brutal policing of peaceful protest and the blatant profiling of people like Olympic athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo Dos Santos. The couple were handcuffed and separated from their 3-month-old baby during a failed police search. Meanwhile, Black Twitter was awash with people uploading their own stories, accounts and videos of violent policing, reminiscent of that which led to the uprisings of the 1980s. As the stories kept coming, we learned that 2 Met police officers had taken selfies with the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Then in 2021, an officer was convicted of manslaughter for killing Dalian Atkinson. The officer exceeded the recommended taser length (by 10 times) and kicked Dalian so hard that he left his bootlace imprint on Dalian’s head. This led to a widespread outcry over the two-tiered policing of the Black community, but it wasn’t just Black people who could see the ugly underbelly of the police force.
2021 was the year the friendly local ‘bobby on the beat’ veneer chipped away. The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer, the use of his warrant card to deceive her and the violent policing of women attending her vigil, were the, collective, straws that broke the proverbial. Any misguided notions that these incidents were that of single bad apples, as we are so often told, were shattered during Wayne Couzens sentencing hearing when serving officers spoke in support of their depraved colleague. Yes, you read that correctly, after he had been proven guilty of rape, kidnapping and murder, there were serving officers who still spoke out to support him. Even Minneapolis police officers had the decency to speak against Derek Chauvin at the trial for the racist murder of George Floyd.
Any suggestions that these forces are equipped to meet the needs of our communities are farcical. Due to the centralising of police services, most officers have lost touch with local people and lack understanding of the culture, dynamics and needs of our communities. 80% of the incidents that the police respond to are not criminal in nature. Many fall under the remit of mental health services, children’s services, youth services, educational services and domestic abuse support services, who are experts in their fields. When these services are chronically underfunded, the natural outcome is more crime and harm. When these services are adequately funded, and able to respond to the needs of their communities, crime rates lower and we have less need for the police to act as a sticking plaster for much deeper-rooted issues. Operation Withdraw Consent proposes a new model of policing which allows the police to be the experts in the field of crime but gives communities the power, structure and funding to meet their own needs. It is common knowledge that the IOPC is staffed by many former officers. Operation Withdraw Consent is calling for independent community-based scrutiny of the police and closer work with police and crime commissioners to detach them from chief constables and support them in holding the police to account.
The truth is Peel’s dream of policing was just that. Revisionist historical accounts suggest that Peel founded The Met police in order to gather intelligence on working-class organising and protect the interests of the land-owning gentry. If we consider this a perspective into the true aims of the police force, then they’re doing their jobs rather well. The recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 and Public Order Bill have highlighted a state-sponsored obsession with spying on and disrupting peaceful working-class organisation. Yet, to this day the police continue to overlook the lawbreaking of the ruling class – lockdown party anyone? The police are given chance after chance after chance to do the right thing, to protect our communities and secure rape charges greater than the current paltry 1.6%, yet each time they fail. Public confidence is at an all-time low and the police are facing a crisis of legitimacy that they cannot recover from. As far as social experiments go, UK police forces have been a resounding failure. It’s time to withdraw consent.
By Chantelle Lunt, from Operation Withdraw Consent
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