Today in the Lords Brian Paddick will lead a debate for the first time, on public trust in the police. After 30 years’ experience in the Met, he says here, it is time for a change of culture in the police service to one of openness and honesty
Almost without precedent, British policing is carried out with the consent and cooperation of the public by relatively few, predominantly unarmed officers. The public act as the eyes and ears of the police and they generally comply with police officers’ lawful requests. This is policing by consent rather than policing by force, which in turn depends on the public having trust and confidence in their police.
Recent events have had the potential to undermine public trust and confidence in the police. The independent Hillsborough inquiry, the Leveson inquiry, the so-called ‘Plebgate’ affair and revelations about the alleged failure to properly record crimes all have the potential to undermine public confidence in the police. This is not just about opinion poll ratings. The effectiveness of the police service to keep us safe is dependent on the public’s willingness to cooperate with and support the police.
The police service is not alone in trying to cover-up malpractice in order to try to prevent damage to its reputation, but in the case of the police their effectiveness in fighting crime is dependent on its reputation. Inevitably, the truth usually does emerge and the reputational damage is even worse when there appears to have been a cover-up. We need to see a change of culture in the police service to one of far more openness and honesty.
We also need to see a completely independent and effective system for the investigation of police malpractice. As a senior police officer, many members of the public told me that they had no confidence in the police complaints system. What I knew then and what I have learnt since leaving the police service five years ago has reinforced my view that they have good grounds for their lack of confidence.
The system is also unfair and unjust in the way it treats some police officers. For example, the lessons learnt from miscarriages of justice, particularly in murder investigations, do not appear to have been learnt by some police Professional Standards Departments. It appears in some cases, evidence is being excluded or even withheld where it undermines the prosecution case.
The current system serves neither the public nor the police service well. Proposed government-led changes are a step in the right direction, but we need to go further if we are to preserve the high esteem in which the British police service is still held.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.