openDemocracyUK

Why vote Green - State Police

Shahrar Ali
6 April 2010
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There is a fine line between state police and a police state. Former good; latter bad. The police have a duty to serve us all and a right to expect our cooperation in return, but they are not beyond the requirement to act justly in the process – and to be seen to be. Alas there has been a systematic erosion of civil liberties in the UK, due to the negative impact of badly framed or excessive anti-terror legislation and, in particular, the use of highly questionable policing tactics since 9/11 – such as the ‘kettling’ tactics used to ‘control’ the G20 protestors in 2009, and the police violence which led directly to the death of Ian Tomlinson. Greens seek to redress this imbalance by promoting a service-led culture within the police force, in which they are an integral, representative and visible part of the communities they would serve. This will help to counteract the sense that they are generally remote from us – somehow anonymous, or actually aggressive.

Policing can be an extremely challenging vocation, and with the right training also immeasurably rewarding. The funding of safer neighbourhood teams, fronted by police community support officers, will be prioritised, and the idea that this is not a proper policing role will be corrected by affording it the status in the profession it deserves. Policing on foot or by bicycle may not be seen to be as glamorous as hot pursuit by helicopter or turbo-powered vehicles, but, pound for pound, the benefits to society are greater. A cultural shift will not only lead to the citizenry being better served, due to the adoption of intelligence-led, community-based policing, but a correction in the public’s exaggerated fear of crime out of due proportion to the probability of crime or terrorism actually occurring.

Tackling both crime and the causes of crime will be a priority for a Green government, in terms of better design of urban spaces; improved social and sports facilities for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy and share; and the resourcing, not abatement, of informal policing roles. Greens would increase ‘resources for caretakers, attendants and staff on estates, railway stations, parks and other public areas’. Greens are also committed, where possible, to make greater use of community sentences instead of custodial ones. The focus of justice would be for the offender to make reparation to the community; not to face retributive infliction of harm for its own sake. Punishment will continue to play a role but less of a role. We take the current levels of men, women and youth imprisoned to be both unacceptably high and counterproductive because of the ‘great cost to their future rehabilitation, as well as to their families, the taxpayer and society in general.’ (CJ340) A socially just society is one in which the resentments which sometimes foster crime will not be allowed to fester. 

CCTV

CCTV as an aid to crime prevention has got out of control. One can acknowledge that CCTV footage is sometimes useful, even critical, in securing a conviction in certain circumstances. But the more relevant question is whether it is generally a better way, pound for pound, of directing limited police resources. A 2007 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering entitled, ‘Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance: challenges of technological change’ concluded that it is ‘far from clear that surveillance brings intended benefits’ and that the harms often fall more upon those who are racially stereotyped. I would say that CCTV also contributes to an irrational sense of siege; or a sense that since a crime is being recorded then one need not intervene, even when it is relatively safe to do so. It were as though crimes were no longer real until or unless they got recorded and broadcast as part of a national campaign.

Call this the Crimewatch UK CCTV syndrome – the tendency to mediate, validate, and therefore distance oneself from the communities one belongs to through the closed circuit camera and the television set; but that is conducive to alienation, one of the causes of crime; not to social cohesion, something that would help abate the preconditions of crime.

Greens would promote a more diverse police force – in terms of both gender and ethnicity – to try to combat prejudice in the police, where it occurred, and to boost the confidence of the public in them, in turn. Official police studies demonstrate that people from ethnic minorities are at least four times more likely to be stopped than those classified as white. Yet the arrest rate resulting from such stops is both highly marginal and shows no significant difference per category. Therefore, if you are innocent and black you are more likely to face police detention than if you are innocent and white.There is no place in society for the race-based policing tactics these statistics betray. The use of stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 or Section 60 of the stop and search (non-terrorist) powers would be limited to proper intelligence-led policing.

This is to advance nothing less than the findings of a 2007 MPA report, entitled ‘Counter-Terrorism: the London Debate’,which accepted that Londoners were ‘unhappy to accept the existence and use of a police power which requires no reasonable grounds other than its own authorisation,’ and concluded that, if the police were unable to demonstrate the effect of the power in countering terrorism, then they should stop using it, in order to limit ‘the damage done to community relations’. In 2009, the European Court ruled that the use of random stops and searches was unlawful. Instead of abiding by this ruling, the current government would seek to appeal against it.

Stockwell shooting

Unjust racial profiling played a part in the fatal shooting of Brazilian worker Mr de Menezes at Stockwell Underground by armed police in July 2005.

The police compounded their errorof using ‘dark skinned’ as a reason to initiate ‘hot’ pursuit of the suspect, by contradicting themselves on a form when later recording his colour as ‘white European’. On the day, crucially, the Metropolitan Police adopted rules of engagement known as Kratos that would enable an officer to shoot to kill solely on the basis of a remote command.There was fevered public reaction in the days and months following the killing, both out of sympathy with the deceased and his family and outrage that the police had made such a fatally dramatic mistake. Two official reports were compiled by the IPCC and trials were conducted by the coroner and under health and safety legislation. There is much information in the public domain but the right conclusions have yet to be drawn.

What lessons should be learned? Firstly, the rules of engagement that were subjected to considerable debate in the aftermath of the killing – provoking comment from both senior police officers and politicians –should have been put to the public before then, for some form of legislative scrutiny that enabled approval or rejection. Instead they were adopted in 2003, with minimal announcement, and only after input from Israel about their own use of the tactics. In addition, some of the rules were kept secret.Second, comments made by the police after the shooting,demonstrated that they had not, in many cases, understood the preconditions for using their own lethal commands. Under Kratos, lethal force may only be used when ‘absolutely necessary’, and in strict compliancy with Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Instead, some police assumed that the conceptof ‘reasonable force’ could be made to apply; but that is a far weaker condition.Third, confusion about the exceptional circumstances under which the rules could be entertained and applied was exacerbated by incompetence on the part of the operational commander on the day. In the 2007 trial, Commander Cressida Dick maintained that when she gave the order to ‘stop’ the suspect, she did not mean to have him shot dead. However, the Stockwell One report takes issue with this: ‘In the context of what had occurred it is clear that this was more than a normal police stop order and that in those circumstances she should have said that KRATOS had not been engaged and that CO19 [specialist firearms unit] should not shoot unless there was an absolute justification.’ (Stockwell One, 20.47:127).

Whilst the prose is understated the implication is clear. Dick’s failure to clarify what she meant, even if one took her word for it that she did not mean to have the suspect shot dead, was grossly incompetent and culpable. The rules had been explicitly engaged during the pre-shooting briefing and Stockwell One goes so far as to criticise the language used by one DCI on the day as inciting the firearms team: ‘Well prepared, up for it, deadly and determined.’(IPCC November 2007, 18.92: 104) Since the command ‘stop’, under Kratos, was being used as shorthand for shoot to kill, there can be little doubt that any failure to make explicit a contrary intention constituted negligence of a high order. The command could have reliably been known to bring about a fatality and did in fact. It should also be learned that the use of the term ‘stop’ is not explicit enough, under any circumstances, for the action it is supposed to sanction under Kratos – and not explicitenough to rule out that a commander might, as any kind of a defence,seek to subsequently claim that she did not mean what she said.

Perhaps the use of the word ‘KILL’ could be substituted, to help focus the minds of the firearms team that they were indeed ‘up for it’?The Green Party for the London region drew up policy for the 2008 GLA elections, calling upon the Met to abolish the shoot to-kill option under Kratos. Lethal force may remain an option outside Kratos, but only under the legal protections afforded bythe European Convention of Human Rights. This position properly takes into consideration the need to minimise the risk of great harm– and injustice, with lethal results – done to innocent people, through possible false identification as suspects.

Moreover, there is an inbuilt bias in the Kratos rules (as drafted) to shift the presumption of responsibility for exercising lethal force up the chain of command, from the firearms officer to a remote commander. But this risks seriously disempowering the shooter, in a time-critical scenario,from engaging with the suspect in ways that could have helped to establish their threat level or none.Even if it is agreed that there can be circumstances in which it is permissible, or required, to shoot to kill a terrorist, in order to save a greater number of innocent bystanders, the Kratos rules are arguably ill-suited to perform that function in such a crowded environment as London – with its multiple opportunities form is identification and miscommunication.

Nor can it be taken for granted that the public would consent to such a tactic being made available, even with further protections.So long as there remained a problem of misidentification – with the added injustice that some minorities were going to be at greater risk of groundless suspicion – it is arguable that, other things being equal, it is far worse to be the victim of a police mistake or incompetence, than to be the victim of a suicide bomber. Both harms are instances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we should take ourselves to be in greater control over what tactics the police may take themselves to have resort to in the name of defending those they claim to serve.

Even if your average London citizen found themselves, in some sense, better protected by the police resort to a Kratos rule – and was at reduced risk of being misidentified on racial grounds – I have some faith in the assumption that they would not wish upon their innocent neighbours or commuters a greater risk of harm or injustice through the application of an ignorant racial profile that they happened to conform to. This is what is meant by standing shoulder to shoulder. In 2008, after ten weeks of deliberation, the jury into the coroner’s inquest into the de Menezes shooting returned an open verdict and concluded that his death was at least in part caused by six failings of the police – yet the coroner ruled out unlawful killing as a verdict open to the jury. In 2010, Commander Cressida Dick received an award in the New Year’s Honours list. If the Green Party needed yet another reason to want to disestablish the monarchy, and the trappings which it facilitated, here it was.The sheer obscenity of seeking to reward an individual whose culpable incompetence had been a major cause of the death of an innocent man beggars belief.

This is an extract from Why vote Green (2010)  published by BiteBack as one of six manifestoes. OurKingdom is running the sections from all of them on civil liberties. That makes three, as explained here.

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