The force that is never ashamed of itself

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The Independent Online
A FRIEND of mine called Winston wanted to be an electrician or a detective when he grew up. I used to think what audacious ambitions for a 12-year-old black boy from Hackney. I wanted to be a hairdresser when I was his age.

Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs and Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect changed all that. Now I want to be a detective when I grow up. But Winston and I are doomed. He's the wrong colour and I'm the wrong sex.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, in a report released last week, has confirmed what we knew - that white men's harassment of everyone else is endemic in police culture. The police are the final frontier of the white man;

the last bastion of masculine intuition.

The police's corporate culture is authoritarian but capricious, militaristic but weak. It has proved impregnable to political and professional pressure to modernise.

Not that some of the police haven't tried. The Met's managers are promoting equal opportunities - not to be nice, but because a prejudiced police force just isn't professional. With considerable courage, documents such as the Met's 1989 report Investigation of Crime in Territorial Operations, and the speeches of Commissioners Imbert and Condon, have owned up that the force is chauvinist, badly managed and hooked on misleading but reassuring methods of measuring performance. In other words, they are not very good at their jobs and are losing many of the blacks and women they have recruited because it is an inhospitable culture for them.

And Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, has not helped these reformers as he could and should. He has not formed the necessary alliance with the police officers who are keen for change but need his help. The man who, as Secretary of State for Health, challenged the welfare state with a cultural revolution as well as an economic one, has offered them only economic reform and has evaded equally important challenges. 'I feel cheated,' lamented one chief inspector. 'We wanted him to be as revolutionary with us as he was with education and health.'

'He is decentralising responsibility, but recentralising power,' commented one civilian adviser. Why does the same outfit that catches burglars control football matches?

He hasn't helped the reforming chiefs to confront their closed culture and has left them without an essential element of internal discipline - an external eye. When multi-disciplinary encounters have exposed officers to the gimlet gaze of their peers in other professions, they are often reported to be insecure, ill-educated, insular and ill-tempered. 'What I always notice is their terrible tantrums,' a voluntary sector senior manager said, 'and they're never ashamed of themselves.'

The police are feeling particularly defensive now because they feel they are being blamed for rising crime in a way that is unjust. 'The Government's culpability for crime has bust its historic alliance with the police,' one police adviser said. 'The police are very worried that they're going to be dumped on by their principal ally, because the Government's got to blame somebody for the rise in crime.'

That is not a problem of the police's making. Their business is detection and serving the victims of crime. These two are crucially connected and the police are not very good at them.

The performance indicators to be implemented from April will increase the quantity of police performance, but they may not improve the quality. That is why they need a cultural revolution.

In the boysie, boozy, quarters' culture that sometimes passes for the CID, a tipple with an informant might well be more agreeable than taking tea with a victim. The mighty investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper was a mess, not only because it belonged to the era of paper-pushing - the prehistory of computers - but because men were mesmerised by the misleading 'hard' evidence of a tape that turned out to be a false trail rather than the accurate - as it turned out - 'soft' evidence of the women who were Peter Sutcliffe's survivors.

Communities exhausted by crime become no-go areas for the police because they can't afford to give them the service they demand and deserve. Communities are then abandoned to their most dangerous elements.

As crime is cleared up not by detection, but by the co-operation of the community, through the traffic of information and imagination between public and police, the demise of diplomatic relations between the two leads to the decline in detection.

Kenneth Clarke's challenge to the police addresses little of this.

Why can't the victims of crime be protected by people who are more like themselves than the perpetrators? When will Mr Clarke launch the cultural revolution that would make detection a career for Winston and me?