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Gloucestershire Police Federation

Chair’s Blog: Steve James on Policing and Impartiality

8 September 2023


The commissioning of a review by HMICFRS into the impartiality of policing raises questions about the duty of policing to foster equality and champion the rights of the under-represented.

For many years the police service has been criticised for how it has treated people from various different minority communities. That treatment extends across the spectrum of policing activity, from how we respond to victims of minority groups to how the service treats its own officers and staff. Most recently the Casey report cast the Metropolitan Police Service, and by extension policing itself, as racist, homophobic and mysognistic.

In many forces, and with many officers, considerable work has been ongoing for some time to respond to this criticism and to improve the treatment of minority groups, and to make policing better for everyone. I have been fortunate to have been involved in some of that work in my own force. It is an imperfect process and not a quick one, but the will is there.

Such work naturally means making efforts to engage with and understand under-represented groups an date issues they face in order to forge better relation with this groups. That means listening to the lived experience of others, listening to those who represent those groups - groups who often do not have a heard voice. That includes Independent Advisory Groups and Staff Association Networks. And yes, this means officers showing their support of Pride, and Black History Month, and being invited to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and all the other things that help to make policing more accessible, to people who have not historically not enjoyed positive relations with policing. It’s also why police officers visit schools and have Cadets, and visit care homes, and why our force enjoy such a good relationship with Treasure Seekers, a local charity supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

Policing has to be there for everyone. The Police are the public and the public are the police. All of us.

This is the right thing for policing to do. Not because it’s right for policing, but because its the right thing to do.

However this week the Home Secretary has written to HMICFRS to commission a review into whether such activity is undermining police effectiveness. The Home Secretary is apparently concerned that the police are devoting too many resources to the above activities at the expense of common-sense policing (whatever that is?). Additionally policing is too readily distracted by virtue-signalling and the demands of Staff Association Networks.

Interestingly, this concern over SANs seems to be a direct lift from a Policy Exchange paper from earlier this year, that essentially recommended wide-ranging restrictions on the activities of SANs.

The remit of this review seems to ignore a number of things. Firstly, the lack of operational effectiveness in policing is assuredly not because officers are spending too much time discussing critical race theory or the finer points of gender identity politics. It’s because austerity stripped policing of thousands of years of policing experience, only recently replacing that with a young and inexperienced workforce via Uplift. It’s because front-line officers are each trying to manage 30 crime investigations and it take them 6+ hours to redact video footage simply to approach CPS for a charging decision. It’s because Uplift didn’t fund additional police staff, so ‘office’ functions are being managed by warranted officers. It’s because the Crime Recording Standards Rules for Fraud alone stretches to 148 pages. It’s certainly not because a few police cars have rainbow stripes on them.

Secondly, whilst the Home Secretary states that “The essential function of the police is to uphold the law”, one of those laws is s149 of the Equality Act 2010 which provides for the public sector equality duty, meaning that polices forces must

‘have due regard to the need to—

(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.’

It might be the right thing to do, but policing also MUST by law do it’s part to address inequality, especially when it is policing itself that has been the source of such inequality. HMICFRS may in due course criticise the way in which policing goes about exercising this due regard, but this duty will remain.

Whilst there is focus in the Home Secretaries letter on the actions of Chief Constables and police leadership, notably in the (somewhat worrisome) comment that ‘I hope that we can work together to prevent police, especially those in leadership positions, from committing themselves to more and more identity-related causes’, this is also inevitably about the actions of individual police officers.

But that individual duty to promote equality is reinforced even here.Let us not forget that all police officers, of whatever rank, have each sworn an attestation to the Crown that states we will each ‘…serve the King in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people…’

Lastly, the Home Secretary is concerned that apparent ‘virtue-signalling’ will have an impact on public opinion and confidence in the police. Lets put aside for one moment that the whole point of much of this activity is to try and secure the public confidence of under-represented groups (and that the letter is clearly itself designed to curry favourable public opinion with certain sections of the Conservative votership), and head back to Peel - who knew a thing or two about policing.

Peel exhorted the police ‘to seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law’.  That impartial service to the law means upholding the oaths made at Attestation to treat all with respect, and to uphold the law of the Equality Act by reaching out to and furthering relationships with underrepresented groups. It also means not pandering to the public - or rather political - opinion of those who would use policing as another front of the culture wars.


July 2024