Hillsborough – a personal view

This blog was originally posted in September 2012

The recently published report on the Hillsborough disaster has once again focused attention on standards of policing and the relationship with police legitimacy.  This is my story and my version of events as they unfolded and impacted on me and my team.

I was a sergeant working in Wallasey Merseyside and on night duty on that fateful day.  I recall watching the events unfold on TV during that day and wondering what impact it would have on our plans during the night.  I was posted to the custody suite at the time and this included management of colleagues who worked in the General Enquiry Office (GEO).  Almost as soon as we arrived at 1030 for our 1100 start we sent half of our staff to work in the Casualty Bureau in Liverpool.  Their job would be to answer questions as they came into Merseyside and liaise with South Yorkshire Police.  Throughout the night the news from South Yorkshire got worse and worse.

In the early hours a member of my team asked me to speak to three young men who were at the station counter.  The three had been to the game and could not find their friend.  They had searched for him for hours and had tried to get information from the police but they could not trace him.  My staff contacted the Casualty Bureau who reported that there was a great deal of confusion in Sheffield and they could not get any information.  I took down their details and promised to contact them as soon as we had any information.

About an hour later a gentleman came into the GEO and again I was asked to speak to him.  I took him into a small side room and he told me that he was the father of the boy that the three friends had recently spoken to me about earlier and he asked me to try to trace his son.  After what seemed an eternity we confirmed that his son was one of the people who had lost their lives.  It fell to me to give him the terrible news.

After I told him he did not immediately get upset.  Instead he looked at me and told me that I reminded him a great deal of his son.  This was one of those occasions that I will never forget.  It was terribly, terribly sad.  The man then returned home to give his wife and his family the news that they must have dreaded.

Late in the morning those that had been sent to the Casualty Bureau returned to the station.  They were exhausted and looked drained. They had endured a very emotional night.

In the days that followed my section and I were deployed to Anfield were scarves, shirts and flowers fell from the top of the Kop right down to the halfway line.  I am an avid Evertonian and I was proud to see many blue shirts mixed in with the reds of Liverpool and colours of many other football clubs.  We spoke to football fans from all over the country as they came to pay their respects.  It was a solemn and moving occasion that had a lasting impact on many of those present.

It is only correct that any injustices in the weeks and months following this event are dealt with.  Having been a police officer for 30 years and a senior police officer for half of that time I, along with many colleagues and former colleagues feel ashamed of the stories that are now emerging.  But at the same time I am proud of my staff for the sympathy and professionalism that they displayed on the weeks following this tragedy.

People will rightly focus on the negative aspects of the new report and no doubt further action will be taken.  But there were those who delivered a professional service and maintained the highest standards of policing.  The standards and traditions that we hold dear are apt to be challenged in the weeks and months ahead, but in my view, the most important thing is that justice is not only done but is seen to be done.

As a final note, a few weeks after the disaster I visited the man mentioned to see how he was coping and see whether we could help in any way.  He introduced me to his wife and told me how they had found some comfort and were trying to come to terms with the loss of their son.  I only hope that the publishing of this report and the events that follow bring some comfort to the families of the 96 who lost their livesHillsborough – a personal view (orginally posted

Policing the Great Exhibition 1851

This blog was originally posted in August 2012

The fiasco created by G4S that has resulted in the military and police being called in to ensure security may be a blessing in disguise.  This is not the first time that London has seen a large scale event that has had the potential to threaten the peace.  

In 1851, only 22 years after the creation of the Metropolitan Police, London was the host of the Great Exhibition.  There was considerable trepidation about an influx of vagrants and foreigners to the Exhibition.  The police were increased by 1,000 men and foreign police officers were brought in to identify foreign criminals. 

This was a great opportunity for the ‘new police’ to build on their growing positive reputation and secure legitimacy.  In the end the policing of the event proved to be a great triumph for the Metropolitan Police and in the aftermath of the exhibition there was nothing but praise for the ‘new police’. 

According to the Edinburgh Review in 1852 the organisation of the Metropolitan Police was so good that:
“People begin to think it quite as a matter of course, or one of the ordinary operations of Providence, that they sleep and wake in safety in the midst of hordes of starving plunderers.”    
            (Emsley, 1983: 149)

From what I have seen and read so far the policing of the Olympics, in terms of relationships with the sports fans, has been very positive.  What a contrast from 12 months ago when the police were battling against criminals during inner city disturbances.

I hope that the fact that police officers from across the nation are working to ensure the safety of Olympic athletes and spectators attracts similar positive media coverage.

Developing a policing college – a historical perspective

This blog was originally posted in July 2012

The development of a college that is focused on police related studies is not new, but one has to delve into American police history to identify a police college that left a legacy of professional policing the impact of which is still felt today.

William J. Bopp (1977) states “the police professionalisation movement is largely a search for status and identity, and a sense of history can furnish a foundation for the type of self-realisation which is so essential to personal and professional development.” these are very wise words and a review of American police history identifies what Professor John Grieve refers to as the DNA of policing which started with August Vollmer in 1920s.

Vollmer, was not only the police chief of Berkley California, he was a lecturer at University of California where he taught a series of police administration courses that had been added to the political science curriculum.  The courses were so successful that in 1939 the university recommended the expansion of programme and the hiring of a full time faculty administrator.  Vollmer’s first choice was a former student and police chief of Wichita Orlando Winfield (OW) Wilson.   

Tough negotiations and promises of freedom to work as a consultant with other police forces secured the appointment of Wilson as a Professor of Police Administration, thereby becoming America’s first full time Professor of Police Administration.  In order to make his programme acceptable to both the academics and police practitioners Wilson designed a programme to prepare police students for administrative positions in law enforcement agencies that included subjects such as criminological, medical and psychiatric research on crime, delinquency and deviance.  

The criminology approach to education took a holistic view of policing and consisted of modules on administration, corrections, law, crime prevention and the psychological aspects of criminology.   Wilson focused on the practical aspects of policing, although this was not detrimental to the introduction of theory.  His primary aim was to professionalise the field of law enforcement and over time Wilson led the expansion of the police college and developed a fledgling degree programme into a full school of criminology serving as its first dean.  Throughout this time Wilson amassed a wealth of material that he fed into his two eponymous books ‘Police Administration’ and ‘Police Planning’. 

Between them, Vollmer and Wilson introduced new working practices into policing such as motorcycle patrols, fingerprinting and M.O. files and through their development of the police college influenced policing in America for decades.  

Of course policing has changed since the time of Vollmer and Wilson, but that does not mean that the UK police college should not pay tribute to the impact of these men and should focus on the global impact on policing.  It is recognised that Peel and his first Commissioners left a legacy of policing that is still felt today.  I would assert that Vollmer and Wilson through their police college left a legacy of policing and those responsible for developing the UK police college would do well to study the development of the Berkely college and learn from Vollmer and Wilson.  

Finally, it will be interesting to see who will be chosen to head the UK police college.  There are those in the policing family, serving or retired, with the skills and leadership to pull this off.  Choosing the right leader will be crucial to the success of the programme. 

Credit to William J. Bopp (1977) O.W: OW Wilson and the search for a police profession

Aspiring to Quality Service in policing

This blog was originally posted in June 2012

In his address to the International Policing and Exhibition conference (IPEC) 1991 Sir John Woodcock stated that “the history of the [police] service shows that about every thirty or forty years the police service gets out of step with what the public now want from it”.  Sir John goes on to explain that he believed that in 1991 the police were in one of those periods where the police were providing a service that was at odds with the desires of the public.  The view of Sir John, whose speech centred on quality service in policing, was supported by a large scale national survey called the Operational Policing Review (OPR, 1991).  

The OPR identified three main problems that could be described as policing arrogance that typified the dissonance between the police and the public.  First, the police were setting their own priorities and standards in terms of service delivery and effectiveness.  A long standing notion is that the type of quality of service delivered by the police is determined by the police rather than being customer or citizen led.  This paternalistic attitude by some police managers offered substantial resistance to the ideas of a customer-generated definition of quality of service and was predicated on the concept that the police know best what the customer needs.  Second, there was no verification that ‘customer’ expectations were being met and third, the police were not providing a consistent standard of fairness, courtesy and sensitivity in service delivery.

What followed was a focus on improving the quality of service that the police delivered to the public.  As a young police inspector in the early 1990s I can recall being trained as an assessor in what was then called the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) process and undertaking a series of reviews in my division.  I had no idea why we were undertaking this process, but it seemed like an opportunity to learn a new skill that may come in handy one day. Indeed I can recall one Superintendent advising me that when I attended my promotion board, if I did not mention EFQM in every sentence then I would have no chance of passing.

My naivete to what was happening at a strategic level nationally in relation to quality service was reawakened when I started my research for my doctorate into police reform related to quality service.  My research showed that in the early 1990s there was a strong group of police leaders who were driving change in policing and focusing on standards of service delivery.  Amongst those leaders were Sir John Woodcock as Chief HMIC, John Hirst who was the Chief Constable of Leicester and Sir Charles Pollard who was the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.  Together they, along with other colleagues, formed the Quality Service Committee that strove to encourage police forces to examine the standard of service that they deliver.  

The words of Sir John were quite prophetic when applied the introduction of the Citizen Focus agenda a decade or so later.  Sir John stated that “the public needs a service that answers their needs, one which works to an ethic of openness and consultation, one which sets itself ever higher standards of service, one which measures that standard and announces the results, one which reaches out to the most marginalised in society which is much more concerned with community relations than public relations.” this sentence alone could be the subject of a dissertation covering Panopticism, Discipline of Power, social contract and police legitimacy.  It is a wonderful sentence that describes  an aspiration for policing that I believe exists today.

Those champions of quality in policing ultimately lost their battle to embed quality in service in policing as government reform of policing through Sheehy and Posen caused the service to fight battles on a different front, but perhaps their greatest achievement was to sow a seed that has been blossoming for the last five or six years.

I was privileged to lead the citizen focus charge within  large Metropolitan police force under the New Labour government, and yes, they did swamp us with performance targets and yes that was our primary focus, but we achieved a great deal along the way, not least educating the staff in the value of excellence in service delivery and understanding the needs of victims and witnesses.  But in hindsight maybe we had it easy.  We had a government who supported the delivery of citizen focus by investing in national structures and a network of senior officers at ACPO level.  At one point I counted five ACPO officers whom all played a key part in the citizen focus agenda on a national scale, including three Chief Constables.  

However, in a sense of history repeating itself the Coalition government withdrew all targets and structures that supported the citizen focus agenda and instructed forces to concentrate on a solitary performance target of  reducing crime. So one might think that we are going back to the days of the OPR and the opening comments of Sir John whereby police arrogance becomes the order of the day and the police fail to listen to what communities are saying about them.  But there is a glimmer of hope.

The seeds that I mentioned earlier are still flowering in certain areas and the drive to deliver the police mission of reducing crime through a style that emphasises quality still exists.  Amongst those that I have  recently interviewed I found two assistant chief constables Ruth Purdie of Cheshire Police and Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester Police who not only understood the value of quality service, but are driving quality in all levels of the service not just front line delivery.  Our discussions were exciting as both leaders demonstrated their technical, human and conceptual skills and exhibited charismatic leadership behaviours that can only lead to success.

There were others.  Three chief constables that I interviewed demonstrated their personal commitment by touring their force and speaking in person to groups of people to ensure that the message is given the gravitas that it deserves.  

In closing his speech Sir John stated “The public not only expect, but now demand a culture within the police service that insists that all officers, not just some, not just the majority, but all officers measure up to the requirements of the customer, when and how he or she needs it and not when or how the service feels like delivering it, whether he or she is a victim, accused or just asking the time.”

Lofty aspirations, but if our current police leaders match the commitment of Garry and Ruth, then maybe the police will manage to ensure that quality service in policing becomes  the norm in each and every case.

California States Parks Conference

This blog was originally published in March 2012

Last week I was honoured to have been a speaker and participant at the California State Parks Training  in Malibu California. The annual training is jointly organised by the California States Park Rangers Association (CSPRA) and Park Rangers Association of California (PRAC).  The two organisations work hand in hand to develop a training conference that is current and relevant to all members.  The membership of both associations is an interesting point in itself.  Parks in the UK conjure up pictures of green lawns, planted borders with the odd fountain here and there.  In California the parks are huge open wildernesses stretching on for miles and miles. They include rugged mountains, beautiful waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife from fish to bears.  Park Rangers have the enviable job of protecting such areas and they consist of police, fire, archeologists, maintenance people and naturalists. 

 Developing training that is relevant to such a broad spectrum of people is no mean task and the organisers pulled off a great event with a master stroke.  The planners  managed to achieve POST accreditation so that credits contribute towards the participants continual learning.  However, that is not the real beauty of this conference.

This is the second year that I have been asked to speak at the California Parks Training Conference and on both occasions I have been struck by two things.  First it is a very mature conference.  By that I don’t mean that the attendees are ready to be put out to graze the areas that they protect. I mean that professionalism, care and passion for job that the Rangers do is overwhelming.  I have been to many conferences where participant drift is prevalent or attendees come for the social activities, including lots of alcohol. This conference is different.  Yes there is beer and there are social activities, including a cook- out with a Mexican magician (you had to be there), but throughout the event all you hear is people talking passionately about the parks, their work and how they can improve.  Passion for their job does not come close to describing how the Rangers see their world.

The second issue is a real sense of working together to do the right thing.  The State of California is in a financial predicament and there is a real threat of park closures and loss of employment.  This could have been a very dour and downbeat training conference, but the enthusiasm and determination shone through from all attendees.  It is a real pleasure to spend time with such a group of motivated people.

Perhaps the theme of the conference should have been ‘Parks 2012 – the fight back’ because these people are not going down without a fight.  Both CSPRA and PRAC are lining up an impressive list of allies, including Clint Eastwood and Bobby Shriver (Arnie’s brother in law), who was awarded Honorary State Park Ranger status.  These are just the right people to exert influence, but they are backed but a group of people who are dedicated to keeping the parks of California open and safe for people to enjoy.

Shake, rattle and blow your police whistle

This blog was originally posted in January 2012

I can recall joining the police in 1980 and being given a whistle as part of my uniform.  Older officers showed me how it should be worn on my tunic, but it was a part of my uniform that was simply for show.  The introduction of police radios in the 1960s made the requirement of blowing your whistle to summon assistance null and void to the extent that by the late 1980s the police whistle was no longer given to new constables.

Yet the whistle itself was not an original part of the police uniform circa 1829.  The development of the police uniform was a considered development.  Peel and his Commissioners, Rowan and Mayne, faced a public backlash for the introduction of a full time police service.  The public viewed them with suspicion and were concerned that they would spy on their gatherings and impede their civil liberties.  The ‘new police’ were viewed with suspicion, giving Peel two problems.  First he had to encourage people to build a relationship with the police and approach them for help.  The design of a  uniform was one of  the answers to this.  The idea was that citizens would not see the police as spies as they were visible in the streets and roads of London in their top hats and tailcoats.  The second issue was that the uniform could not resemble the red and gold uniforms of the military.  The military had been used to break up protest and riot in the past with disastrous consequences including the death of many citizens.  So a blue uniform with white trousers was chosen.

The police were ‘armed’ with a baton and a rattle that had to be hidden from view and were  given a lantern on an individual basis.  In a reply to a letter in 1839 that the police should be issued with whistles instead of rattles Commissioner Richard Mayne wrote of the whistle ‘we tried it in comparison with the common rattle now in use, and found the rattle preferable for giving notice of alarms.’

Each time the policeman (there were no policewomen at this time) used his rattle he had to submit a report detailing its use.  This system was still in use in Merseyside Police up until the late 1980s where a police officer had to submit a report each time he or she drew his or her baton even if it was not used.  Returning to the rattle, it was supposed to carried in the tail pocket of the coat, however, it was often used as protection particularly against knife wounds.    

The whistle did not supercede the rattle until the 1860s and it remained an essential part of the police uniform for many decades thereafter.  Interestingly the British bobby whistle is still a sought after piece of uniform.  Up until recently it was awarded as a prize for exceptional community policing in Green Bay Police Department Wisconsin.

I still have my original police whistle and somewhere I have the whistle that was given to my father who was also a police officer.  It is a small piece of uniform that has an interesting history.  I wonder how many officers kept their whistle when they retired? 

Failing to plan is planning to fail – especially where a foreign language is involved

This blog was originally published in January 2012

I have always tried to follow the philosophy ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ but that saying has deeper resonance when dealing with a foreign language.  I am currently leading a number of Problem Oriented Policing projects here in Abu Dhabi.  I have been teaching here for the Community Policing and Police Science Institute since April of last year. The courses are mainly delivered through the use of PowerPoint whIch consist of English and Arabic translation on the same slides.  

My normal routine is to check the slide deck before I leave the UK.  When I arrive at the training venue, usually a hotel, I will head straight to the conference room and test out the IT.  Do the plugs work?  Does my netbook communicate with the projector?  Is the screen in the right place?  Do the speakers work?  Once happy I can settle down and get my thoughts together for the following day.

However, I recently switched from a Windows based machine to an Apple MacBook Pro. I love this new machine and I have been getting to grips with the system differences in preparation for teaching this time around.  Due to this course being project based there is a limited number of slides required and I was able to copy and paste them from existing slide decks with a minimum of fuss.  

Another variable this time around was that I was teaching at a hotel that I have not been to before.  The Holiday Inn in Abu Dhabi is a very nice hotel with good facilities.  Instead of linking to a projector the Apple is connected to a large TV screen. There should not be a problem – or so I thought.

The afternoon before I started I went to the conference room and tried the IT and hit a number of problems.  First the TV did not work properly.  That is not my problem and the tech guys worked at correcting this using my MacBook and a number of Windows based machines.  After an hour we were good to go with their Lap tops and my iPad all working correctly.  But I could not get my Mac Book to connect.  Time to phone a friend.  In order to connect to the TV  AV connection the iPad needs a small adapter.  I thought that this adapter would be the same for the MacBook – WRONG.  The McBook needs a different adapter.  Fortunately I was able to borrow one, but as I would need one anyway I headed to Mushriff Mall and bought one in my favourite shop ‘Lulu’s’.  I nipped back to the hotel, connected up and hey presto – all working.  So I went to bed happy ready for the next morning.

Proud of my results, I connected everything up the next day and waited for the students to arrive. I ran through the first of my slides with my translator Adli only for him to declare that the Arabic was wrong.  This was somewhat baffling as I had not altered the Arabic in the slides.  I had been warned that Apple does something odd to the translation, but to my untrained eye it all looked fine.  It seems that the Apple software separates out the letters, so that instead of the letters running into each other they stand alone and do not make any sense.  Time to panic – a little.

The hotel had a lap top that they said I could borrow so I just had to copy all of the files and the videos that I use onto a memory stick, connect everything up, test it and try to look unflustered in front of two Police majors and a professor.  Fortunately all worked well and I am waiting to find out why this is such a problem.  The whole point of buying the MacBook was so that I did not have to carry two lap tops around. The IT guy at the Institute, Fuad, sorted the problem through the use of the Calibri font.  I am not sure what he did but it sems to have worked.  I will have to check with Adli tomorrow.

But it was a lesson learned and no one was any the wiser, but it reinforces the principle that planning and preparation are essential.  It will not happen again – Inshallah

Staring POP projects in Abu Dhabi

This blog was originally posted in January 2012

I have just finished packing for my first trip to Abu Dhabi for 2012.  I have been training for the Community Police and Police Science Institute since April of last year covering subjects such as Community Policing, Community Information and Problem Oriented Policing (POP).  I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some great trainers under the guidance of Professor Gloria Laycock.  Most of the training takes place in a classroom at one of the city centre hotels in Abu Dhabi, however, this time it will be different.

The POP In Action course has been devised by Professor Laycock and is aimed at examining real problems within communities.  I will be working with the police from Al Medhina and Al Ain and we will be working through the renowned problem SARA model SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) real time.  The projects are spread over three two week periods and each time the group of policemen and women will be set tasks to gather and analyse information, identify and contact relevant partners and the community and to start to solve the prioritised problems.

This is a great opportunity to actually try to engage with the police on a practical level and demonstrate the value of POP to both the community and the police.  In preparation I have been re-visiting Professor Herman Goldstein’s seminal book ‘Problem oriented Policing’ and I have been trying to keep up with the reading material that Gloria has been sending!

We know from the planning that this is going to be quite a challenge and will call for great flexibility from all concerned, but I am confident that we will see it through and end up with a positive result in the end.

As the days go by I will update progress via my web site and where possible will include video and pictures.  

Here’s hoping for a safe journey and successful project. Inshallah

Police Legitimacy

This blog was originally posted in December 2011

It is perhaps a phenomena of modern day policing that policing styles should change and community policing is a case in point.  Policing communities, working with them to identify and solve their problems has been a feature of policing around the world for many years.  The UK, USA, India, UAE, Canada and many other countries have recognised the values of engaging communities.  The value of this style of policing was recognised by Wilson  who stated

“The aim of public relations is to develop a favourable public attitude, based on respect for and confidence in the police.  Public cooperation is essential to the successful accomplishment of the police purpose.”
                        (Wilson 1963: 182)

Some 130 years later The Royal Commission on Policing (1960) declared 

“The police cannot successfully carry out their task of maintaining law and order without the support and confidence of the people…they act for the community in the enforcement of law and it is on law and on its enforcement that the liberties of the community rest.”
                                                                                                (Critchley, 1973: 291)
The passage of time appears to have had little impact on this issue as thirty three years later the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) made a very similar statement: –

“… the police service critically depends not just on the confidence of individual customers but on the confidence of the community as a whole if it is to function effectively .”
                                                                                               (ACPO, 1993: 3)
This suggests that in order for the police to ‘function’ they need the support and co-operation of the public and community policing provides an ideal vehicle to accomplish this.  This comment is supported by former Chief Constable John Alderson whose ideas on how the police should relate to communities manifested itself over 30 years later in the shape of the National Reassurance Policing Project (NRRP).  This was followed by a mandate from New Labour that all police forces in England and Wales must have a neighbourhood policing function.  They then dispatched Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) to verify that forces were doing as they were told.  

The New Labour Citizen Focus agenda with its emphasis on levels of confidence and satisfaction provided a tactical framework that included documents such as Hallmarks of Citizen Focus to assist police forces get to grips with this style of policing.  However, the emphasis on crime reduction by the UK Coalition government has seen the demise or reduction in emphasis on Citizen Focus.  It would be interesting to have HMIC revisit all forces and compare the emphasis, structures and resources dedicated to neighbourhood policing.  

The legitimacy and efficacy of community policing seems to be suffering attacks in the USA.  Articles have been published that suggests that the CAPS programme, the forerunner of many UK strategies, has been withdrawn.  In fact this article documents the thoughts of one Chief who suggests that community policing should be ‘killed.’ http://www.iacpcommunitypolicing.org/profile.php?uid=27&blog=92%E2%80%8F

This proposition seems to be a little extreme, especially during these times of financial crisis.  The relationship between the police and community is essential as citizens and communities as a whole become stressed as they face up to the harsh realities of job loss, higher bills, higher taxes etc.  Stepping back to a time where the emphasis was on ‘reactive’ policing is a dangerous precedent.  However Alderson (1984) lamented the extent to which reactive policing, whilst deemed efficient and with a consequent orientation to mobile rather than foot patrol, may have caused and he argued that the reactive style of policing was causing the police to lose the ‘art’ of preventative policing.  

The next twelve to twenty four months will be interesting for policing in UK and USA as the challenge to return to a ‘coercive’ style of policing gathers pace.  I wonder who will be strong enough to resist the politicians, aldermen and police commissioners as they seek recognition and citizen support to keep them in office.  I think that there are some battles to be fought and I hope that the police believe in themselves, the validity of community policing and have the stomach for the fight

Are cops becoming ‘warriors’ instead of police officers?

This blog was orginally published in November 2011

There has been a lot of speculation and comment over that last 12 months about the police use of force and whether the police are becoming too militaristic.  In the UK the police use of force is governed by legislation in the form of the Police and Criminal Evidence act (PACE) and the Criminal Law Act 1967 (Sec 3(1)).  This section in particular says “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

However, this article seems to support the hypothesis that the police are becoming too militaristic http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/09/opinion/navarrette-militarized-police/. There are many police officers who have fallen foul of this legislation and have been prosecuted for using excessive force.  The death of Ian Tomlinson on 1 April 2009 at the G20 summit protest and subsequent charging of Constable Simon Harwood is a case in point. The question for me is, as the police obtain more and more weaponry, do they make less use of their tactical skills to defuse a situation and rely on the weapons that they have at hand?

Here are two cases that point towards this being the case.  There is a caveat to these stories and that is that they were sent to me by a colleague from USA and have not been verified by me, but you can assess the validity of each case yourself.

The first relates to a You Tube clip of a police officer spraying pepper spray over a group of protestors at the University California, Davis.  The video of this incident has gone viral and according to the police department concerned the officers involved have been put on leave.  The incident can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmJmmnMkuEM.  It appears that a seated and passive group of students are repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray.  We do not know what has gone on before, however, on the face of it this use of force seems to be excessive.  

The second incident is the Malaika Brooks incident. Brooks was stopped for a speeding violation and was issued a citation.  Brooks was seven months pregnant at the time.  Washington state requires that the violator sign the citation as proof of issuance.  Brooks refused, was told she would go to jail if she did not sign and two other officers came on scene to try to persuade Brooks to sign the citation.  When these efforts failed Brooks was ordered out of the car and refused.  An officer cycled his Taser (test arc to show Brooks what a Taser did) in an effort to get her to comply without having to deploy the Taser.  Brooks continued to refuse. One officer opened her car door and another used a Taser in drive-stun mode three times in less than a minute (first to her clothed thigh, her bare left arm and finally to her neck).  She did not have any lasting injuries but did sustain burn scars.  The court decided that the use of the Taser in that fashion was excessive force.

In both of these incidents a heavy use of force was used on passive individuals.  This is the point where I asked three US colleagues as to whether the police were becoming too militarised.  Interestingly two said yes and one said no.  The officer who said no referred to battles that are taking place against drug cartels and referred to fighting fire with fire.  This is a very interesting comment as Bittner states 

“The police are posted on the perimeters of order and justice in the hope that their presence will deter the forces of darkness and chaos, because they are meant to spare the rest of the people direct confrontations with the dreadful, perverse, lurid and dangerous, police officers are perceived to have powers and secrets that no one else shares…..and policemen are viewed as the fire it takes to fight fires”
                    (Bittner, 1991: 36)

The juxtaposition of this was referred to by Chief Edward Flynn in the 2008 Milwaukee Policing Plan. Flynn quotes George Kelling 

The “war” on crime and the “war” on drugs are not actually being waged on any front. We cannot wage war on a symptom. We cannot overcome crime or drugs with force. We cannot, as police professionals, be led into employing strategies that alienate us from the very communities that need us the most. We cannot wage war on our citizens.
            Milwaukee Police Dept. Annual Plan 2008:5)

So here we have an academic saying that we should not wage war on our citizens, whereas another seems to accept the use of force as a necessary evil that is legitimised by the public.  Certainly many US commentators now refer to the police as ‘warriors’, but if you have warriors, who are they fighting the war against? It could be said that a war against drugs cartels is acceptable as they use extraordinary levels of violence.  However, pregnant women and passive students do not on the face of it fall into the same category and as the use of terms such as ‘warriors’ to describe police officers extends, should we expect anything other than increases in excessive force as the police themselves begin to believe that they are at war?

There should perhaps be one other factor that is considered here and that is the number of US police officers killed in the line of duty this year.  Earlier this year the comment such as this article referred to a ‘war on cops’ as eleven officers were shot within a 24hrs period http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41235743/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/police-fear-war-cops/.  According to this web site there have been 144 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2011, 54 of which were shot http://www.odmp.org/search/year, so maybe it is understandable that police officers in USA take a ‘warrior’ like stance on public engagement.

Certainly issues such as the ‘Occupy’ protests test the mettle and the patience of the police.  On more than one occasion there have been calls for the National Guard to be called in to remove the protestors.  The interesting point is that in 1800s England the militia were used to ‘police’ protests.  In many cases clashes resulted in excessive force being used resulting in death.  This was one of the founding reasons for the creation of a ‘civil’ police force with Wellington, who was Prime Minister, convincing Peel that he should, without delay, set up a civilian police force specialising in crowd control following rioting after Queen Caroline’s trial in 1821 (Reith, 1948; Ignatieff, 1979; Emsley, 1983; Alderson, 1998). 

Maybe it is time to take a step back and consider what the police are here to do.  Should we fall into the ideas of Bittner and be the fire necessary to fight the fire, or should we consider the views of Kelling and stop alienating those citizens and communities that require protection?