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Police need government to show more support to ensure public safety

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Chair Steve White reflects on an unprecedented period of events and the need for constructive engagement by government to ensure public safety.

I began writing this blog because I felt there was a need to take stock of what has been a whirlwind few weeks in the world; a whirlwind few weeks in which security and public safety have competed for the front pages alongside the almost hourly goings on in UK politics.

I can think of no other time in my career, or in my life, when so many significant events have happened in such a short space of time.

  • The killing of 49 innocent Orlando night club revellers
  • The tragic death of MP Jo Cox
  • The UK voting to leave the European Union
  • The killing of five US police officers in Dallas, Texas
  • The appointment of a new Prime Minister
  • The appointment of a new Home Secretary
  • The killing of 84 people enjoying a national day of celebration in Nice
  • An attempted political coup in Turkey
  • Three more US police officers shot dead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

As I reflected it struck me how security and public safety - the very business of any nation’s police service - is an identifiable theme throughout.

As I said last week, following the appointment of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister and Amber Rudd as the new Home Secretary, the safety of the public is the first duty of government. The police are here to help achieve this, but here in the UK we are at a point of saturation. Ms Rudd must be cognisant of this. She must take the time to understand policing, listen to us as the voice of our 122,000 members and work with us to make positive change.

And it is an interesting prospect that the new PM, a person with whom we, the Police Service, have had so many dealings with, is now in the position of ultimate political power.

Power is an interesting concept when we talk about it in this sense. The power of her position will certainly give Mrs May some specific abilities to direct and order certain things, but with the use of that power comes scrutiny and accountability. We have seen this recently with the Chilcot Report, scrutinising the decisions of a Prime Minister who took our country into conflict.

As police officers, we also have power. We have powers to deprive a citizen of their liberty but, I would suggest, that does not always mean simply exercising said power because we can. Most of the time, whilst skilled officers across England and Wales do have the power to take certain actions many resort to no more than communicating, talking to whoever they are dealing with to resolve the situation. That is a skill and a power in itself. Further powers are something of last resort.

This is often the first, and best, tool that a police officer has, the ability to effectively communicate, to talk to people. I suggest this also applies to politicians, to Home Secretaries and to Prime Ministers, yet isn’t always used to best effect.

A healthy tension between police and politicians is constructive, but an unhealthy one can be destructive. The art of persuasion can be very powerful, but in order to be successful at it, one has to first have a conversation.

In 2012, our relations with the government and the Home Secretary hit rock bottom. There were many reasons for this. What followed was a period where we pretty much had no form of communication with the government, or indeed politicians of any political persuasion. Since then, we have built new relationships; with those politicians, with the government and, dare I say it, even with the then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister Theresa May.

We must now ensure we have a proper conversation and relationship with the new Home Secretary, talking to her about the concerns of our members, and those of the public, on matters of the utmost importance: safety, security and care of the communities the police service are here to serve. After talking with Ms Rudd at the Police Bravery Awards the day after her appointment, I am positive about a constructive relationship here. I was buoyed by the very real emotion she showed during the ceremony which recognised some very significant acts of bravery by officers who went above and beyond the call of duty. Speaking after the event she outlined how the stories of those nominated reminded her of the individuals that made up such an extraordinary, wonderful police service.

Some say we shouldn’t engage or talk, but I disagree. As an officer, you should never wield your power and start at the high end of escalation, because you leave yourself with nowhere left to go. We start with our best tool, talking, and leave our options open.

Be under no doubt, the events the likes of which we have seen in Florida and Nice, is a very real threat right here in the UK. It is now the job of the new government, with the new Home Secretary at the helm, to create conditions in which such an extraordinary, wonderful police service can achieve its aim to protect our communities from harm. We will be communicating and will be part of that conversation.

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