Originally published June 2014.
Social media has been pretty hot following the Home Secretary’s speech to the Police Federation conference last week. Tweets and blogs have been flying about in both in support of the Home Secretary and against her.
Interestingly, while enjoying a post cycle coffee at Eureka Cycling café (@Eureka_Cafe ) I was asked whether I was asked for my view about the Federation and the comments of the Home Secretary. My view was, and is this. The Home Secretary was right to preface her comments with the negative issues that the police are facing up to at the moment. They are the issues that are gaining coverage in the news and they are the issues that are of concern to the public as they are discussed in the cafes and bars. The Home Secretary was right to question the Federation over the ‘reserves’ totaling almost £70 million. And, the Home Secretary was right to draw attention to the ‘number two’ accounts that they would not reveal details of.
So you may think that this brief conversation in a cycling café was fairly irrelevant, but the comments from my fellow cyclists boarded on outrage. ‘How on earth can the police complain about cuts when they have almost as much money as the banks stored away’ – was pretty representative of the comments.
This is somewhat covered by the new Chair of the police Federation Steve White in his piece in the Guardian on 30th May 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/may/30/police-federation-rebuild-trust-chair-steve-white). In the article it states “In his first interview since securing the post, White said his priorities were unifying the federation, and “rebuild[ing] the level of trust the police service has with the public”, which has been “so severely damaged” by national stories such as “Plebgate”, tales of bullying among officials and of secret bank accounts laden with tens of millions of pounds.” This was a refreshing statement that made me think, well, they are throwing themselves on their sword and have recognised the damage that has been done to public trust.
Compare that to the article in Police Oracle on 30th May 2014 by Dennis Weeks of the Metropolitan Police Federation (http://www.policeoracle.com/news/Comment/2014/May/29/FRI-COMMENT-Unpacked-The-Home-Sec-speech_82972.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter). There was no acknowledgement of the impact on public trust here, instead the author goes on to attack the government and apportion blame for most of the issues raised by the Home Secretary on senior officers or the government. Here is an example that relates to Plebgate – “The vexing point here is that the government has failed to take any responsibility whatsoever, despite it being one of their number who directly initiated the incident with an admission, at least, of using abusive language towards an officer at a time when officers were extremely bitter about their treatment over pay and conditions being eroded.” There is no mention of the officers dismissed for a variety of false accounts or the role of the Federation when speaking directly to Andrew Mitchell.
Mr White on the other hand has a slightly more balanced view stating White said there had “absolutely not” been a plot against Mitchell and said the whole affair had “no winners”, with the reputation of the police service being the “biggest loser”, and added: “I don’t think there is anything right about this affair.”
Throwing mud to deflect the blame does not move away from the fact that the police are a ‘public service’ and as such are accountable to the people they have sworn to serve. The social contract that the police have with the public is a key feature of policing by consent and as such it is quite right that the public should have expectations of those who are supposed to be protecting them.
Fortunately this fact was not lost by many of those commenting on Mr Weeks’ article. Many tell the Federation to ‘stop moaning.’ In fact one comment from jackiow pretty much captures the feelings – “But most of her criticism of the Federation was fair, and there have been more than the usual amount of mistakes and corruption over the last few years. As good as our police are, the public are beginning to wonder , and it needed to be addressed. Take it on the chin like the rest of us.”
This was reflected in the statements in Eureka. The public are beginning to wonder. Mr White, who is spoken of as a reformer, again recognises the lack of trust and faith in the Federation stating, “We have been in a fairly dire place for 18 months … we were quite close to being irrelevant.” The Federation has a right to be relevant and to protect its members in an openly transparent manner that acknowledges the fact that many of them are serving police officers and as such are there to uphold the law and morals related to the tradition of British Policing first, and representing their members second.