Police Service/Government tension – it is nothing new

This blog was originally posted in December 2012

The media has played a high profile role in reporting the various aspects of Plebgate and on Sunday 23rd December 2012 I listened to the BBC Radio Five Live programme called Double Take.  The section on the relationship between police and politicians was very interesting and was based upon the circumstances surrounding Plebgate.

The piece was started off by President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Sir Hugh Orde who stated that ‘there has always been and there should be healthy tension between politicians and the police service.  Chief Constables are operationally independent; they have to interpret government policy and deliver it fairly and impartially and have to be held to account and I don’t thinks this is prima facia evidence of a growing distrust.‘

The interesting aspect of this is that such tension between politicians and the police service goes back as far as 1834 when the Chief Magistrate of Bow Street Sir Frederick Roe almost single handedly disrupted the police service and his weapon was the mysterious influence that he had over the Home Secretary Viscount Duncannon.

Roe is described as having an ‘a highly emotional and effeminate temperament’ and Duncannon showed a hostility towards the police that was deeper than mere party or political dislike. 

The relationship between Duncannon and the police was difficult.  Duncannon was determined to bring down the police and revert to the system of Magistrates with their own constables.  It was a power issue that Duncannon wanted to win.  Roe used a serving policeman called King to act as a spy.  He passed information regarding a fictitious complaint back to Roe and Duncannon who moved to destroy the authority of the Commissioners Rowan and Mayne.   

In addressing the pressure from Roe and Duncannon the Commissioners, Rowan and Mayne reportedly acted with consummate tact, patience and dignity maintaining their official position throughout.  Duncannon peppered the Commissioners with requests for information relating to the complaint and proposed a reorganisation of the police that would have destroyed the Commissioners’ authority and the functioning of the police.

The police and the Commissioners were saved when Duncannon found himself out of office due to the resignation of the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, a resignation that resulted in a recall from Italy for Sir Robert Peel who himself became Prime Minister.

I am not too sure that the tension can be described as ‘healthy, ’ but history has a habit of repeating itself and the relationship between the police service and government is complicated and is affected by issues such as economics, system failure and critical events. 

These issues occurred in 1834 and are occurring now and I have no doubt they will occur in the future.  Therefore, should we expect anything other than tension?  If so, how should the tension be handled?

Published by thebluelocust

Former police superintendent. Current university lecturer, police trainer and Director of Blue Locust Network Ltd

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