Sir Ian Blair: 'The public must decide what sort of police it wants'

From the 30th Richard Dimbleby Lecture by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, east London
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The Independent Online

We are setting out in directions which could change what policing looks like and how it is experienced. The dreadful death of Mr de Menezes is a watershed. Until now, the police have discussed the strategy and tactics for using lethal force behind closed doors, open only to police authority members, Home Office officials, ministers and some specialist advisors. That has to change. An open debate is now required, not just about how the police deal with suicide bombers, but about how, in a liberal democracy, a largely unarmed service uses lethal force in any and all circumstances.

In 1964, Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the United States, said that "every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves; what is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on".

I don't know how we should insist on it but I know that we should. I don't know whether we should have a King's Fund for the police or university schools of policing or a big tent conversation but a new urgency is upon us. I don't know the answers but I do know that policing is important. It is as important as health and education, as transport, the environment and the military. Clemenceau described war as being "too important to leave to the generals". Equally, policing is too important to leave to police chiefs - or to party politics alone.

We need - you need - to move from policing by consent, which is the bedrock of our policing settlement but which is passive, to policing by direct collaboration, which is active. The police service needs public engagement and debate to help it fit the multi-cultural, open society to which the London Olympics aspire, a Britain in which I want to live and in which I want my children to live. That Britain cannot succeed without a police service to match. You need to decide what kind of police service we want. As the Bobbies named after him prove, Robert Peel created policing in Britain and in the free world. I will leave you with perhaps his most important yet enigmatic statement, "the police are the public and the public are the police". You and we are one.

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