The modernisation of the police

Podium: From a speech by the chief constable of the Surrey Police to the Social Market Foundation, London
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The Independent Culture
THE LEVEL of debate about what kind of police force we need and what kind of police force we have is now very significant and will reach a climax next week with the publication of the Macpherson report on the death of Stephen Lawrence. I do not know what is in that report and I would not want to be drawn on its conclusions: however, there are one or two obvious resonances and I will try to make clear my beliefs about those.

The second paragraph of the 1993 White Paper on Police Reform issued by the last government stated that "the main job of the police is to catch criminals". In contrast, the overarching purpose of the police service issued by the present administration is:

"To build a safe, just and tolerant society, in which the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families and communities are properly balanced, and the protection and security of the public are maintained."

I am much more comfortable with the second approach. While a job of the police is to catch criminals - and as a chief constable, I am trying to encourage the habit among my officers - the job of the police service is much broader: to contribute to creating and maintaining the kind of stable communities in which individuals and community organisations flourish.

Twenty-five years ago, Sir Robert Mark wrote:

"The police are the anvil on which society beats out the problems and abrasions of social inequality, racial prejudice, weak laws and ineffective legislation."

If you will pardon the pun, the anvil is a very striking image. It is solid and old-fashioned if not quite obsolescent, and is something which things are done to but which does not change as a result.

There could scarcely be a better simile for the culture of the police: at its best, brave - sometimes, heart-stoppingly brave - capable, imperturbable, offering equality of treatment before the, law, a safe haven.

We, all know of examples of police culture at its worst but, even at its best, it is not best fitted to handle the disparate and shifting requirements of modern society. So if there is modernisation to do, it is here.

This is not about race, solely. It is about the mindset of the organisation. Talking to women officers, for instance, and as a generalisation, I find that they clearly feel that they have to adapt to a male ethos.

Only just now, in my force, are gay and lesbian officers feeling confident enough to "come out". So, in my opinion, the issue of race, which appears likely to be so central to the debate after Macpherson, needs to be in the wider context of an overall working culture which, quite frankly, is now old-fashioned.

Last summer, I made a speech which called for a new partnership in community safety between local authorities, the police and, perhaps, the private security industry.

While they work among the community, the police are in fact isolated in their training, in their accountability, in their methods of working, in their pride. The post-Macpherson era is one in which this just will not do and, in that "just will not do-ness," the last element of modernisation to which I want to refer is the governance and operating systems of the police.

In a post-modern society, we need to consider whether the separation of the ways of governance of the police service from those used in the rest of local government remains as sensible as it once was.

We need to consider whether the great totem of the operational independence of chief constables - which has been used to keep police authorities at a suitable distance - is as all-encompassing as it has been claimed to be.

We need to consider whether police managers need to be trained separately from their colleagues in local government, from senior civil servants, from the fire service, from the ambulance service. We need to examine whether the outmoded labour relations framework in which the police operate is appropriate.

The Government has launched itself upon something that is referred to as "The Project" - for the modernisation of Britain. In terms of crime and policing, there were manifesto commitments on drugs, on youth crime, on community crime reduction (and the Crime and Disorder Act is a substantial step forward in this direction) and on police efficiency.

Despite much effort, the police service has not thought through the consequences, the implications, the requirements of modernity. It needs to do so now. If modernisation is to happen, the police need help. In order to help with enquiries, you need to invite the cops in from the cold.