Letter: Redefinition of the police

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The Independent Online
Sir: The response of K. A. Murray (Letters, 20 January) to your leading article 'Policing the police' hits the target in a manner reminiscent of Mrs Beeton's advice, 'first catch your hare'.

That our police system needs to be reformed is beyond dispute. What is in dispute is whether the police are to be a remote, threatening, repressive arm of government, or a body of public servants protecting, befriending and advising the meanest as well as the grandest of our citizens, in addition to their criminal role.

Many of us have campaigned over recent years for the setting up of a powerful royal commission on the police.

Whether we are to have a people's police or a government's police is too important to be decided by an ad hoc inquiry, however distinguished it may be.

It can no longer be argued that the police are part of local government. Forces like those of the Thames Valley and Devon and Cornwall, to say nothing of the Metropolitan Police, are more reminiscent of regional bodies.

We now face the prospect of a three-tier police service:

the first tier, the service police, accountable to local government (for example, district councils);

the second tier, regional support police, including regional crime and other squads and the more expensive items such as helicopters and major computers, and patrol and policing of motorways;

and the third tier, which has now to be based on the newly formed National Criminal Intelligence Service.

Each tier would require different constitutions but the whole should be based on the ideal of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the protection of institutions of democratic government.

Yours faithfully,


Ottery St Mary,


The writer was Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall from 1973-82