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Letter: The PCC Should Remain Above A Political Slanging Match

Published on: 16 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 15 Jun, 2020

From Ben Paton

In response to: Lib Dem Letter is a Disgraceful Slur on British Policing

I was dismayed to read the letter from David Munro, the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, for several reasons.

The seventh Peelean Principle on which the police force was established in the 1820s states:

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.

If the police 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” then the PCC should avoid involvement in political argument.

Mr Munro’s letter gives the unfortunate impression he is “weighing in” on the side of Sir Paul Beresford in what is essentially a political slanging match between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

The PCC’s role is surely to remain aloof from these sorts of arguments. His contribution can hardly be seen to be unbiased when he introduces the subject by writing, “Sir Paul Beresford has shown me the letter you wrote to him… He has also given me a copy of his reply.”

Nor can the PCC be seen as independent when he had had a very public career in local politics as a Conservative politician. He was, after all, a long-serving Conservative member and then chairman of Surrey County Council.

It is the job of the PCC to hold the police to account. The holder of the office should try to be impartial. By all means correct the facts. By all means ensure a complete and accurate picture is presented. But it is best to avoid giving the impression that the PCC “has a dog in the fight” and that he is cheering on his own “dog”.

I agree that the statement: “Police brutality directed overwhelmingly against BAME people, the use of force against peaceful protesters and political leaders defending racism is no less of an issue in the UK than they are abroad” is incorrect.

Policing in the UK and the USA differs dramatically. I remember being stopped by a traffic cop in rural New Hampshire for exceeding a 20mph speed limit. A police car came up behind me with lights blazing, siren blaring and hailed me by loudspeaker.

The officer ordered me to stop, get out of the car and put my hands on the roof of the car. That struck me as a little OTT. But then the USA is a country where anyone can carry a gun. And quite a few police officers are shot dead in the USA.

A PCC is entitled to point up the differences in different national policing practices. But surely it is unwise to demand that local politicians should “…acknowledge[d] the contribution of our fine county police force, Surrey Police”.

When leaders of any organisation write their own school report and tell everyone how well they are doing it always rings rather hollow. But it rings especially hollow when the organisation is a public monopoly that has no competition in the provision of its services and when it is extremely difficult to hold it to account.

The job of the police is difficult. Government as a whole absolves itself of responsibility for many aspects of society by relegating them to the police to handle. Often the police are not properly resourced for all those responsibilities.

When things go wrong and police officers do not conform with the values of the Peelean Principles, it is the job of a PCC to uphold the principles, not the police. Sadly, my experience and that of thousands of others is so often the authorities are more eager to exonerate the police than to examine the facts carefully and uphold the principles.

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test One Response to Letter: The PCC Should Remain Above A Political Slanging Match

  1. David Roberts Reply

    June 17, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    PCCs are a waste of space, needlessly politicising a humdrum oversight function previously handled quite adequately by public-spirited committees. For this, we have to thank the Tories and their childish infatuation with all things American.

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