Photo by King's Church International

Yes Officer

If the police won’t curb their officers’ active politicking, politicians may have to

Artillery Row

The police are diving into political waters with great gusto. Throw a stick at any police Twitter account, and you will hit an egregious example of active political campaigning. One of the worst I have seen so far was posted on 25 September by group called “Trans Radio UK support Trans Kids”. They tweeted a picture of a marked police car, saying “thank you to the Surrey Police officer who suggested we do this to show what Surrey police actually do think and not the views for their Terf PCC @_Lisa_ Townsend”.

One of the posters plastered to the car read, “Our Police and Crime Commissioner says trans women are men. We respectfully disagree. Transwomen are WOMEN”.

I asked Surrey Police via Twitter if they would review the behaviour of their officer, with reference to the Code of Ethics and their Public Sector Equality Duty. They must be busy on their Twitter feed celebrating Bike to School week, but I am sure they will reply to me soon.

The unfettered power of PCCs gave Parliament some cause for concern

The Code of Ethics was produced by the College of Policing in 2014 to set and define the standards of behaviour for everyone who works in policing. Of particular relevance is the standard of “Fairness and impartiality” at para 3.1: the police must uphold the law regarding human rights and equality, treat all people fairly and with respect and treat people impartiality. This informs para 6.5, which explicitly prohibits the police from taking any active part in politics. “This is intended to prevent you from placing yourself in a position where your impartiality may be questioned.”

To better uphold this code, the Police and Crime Commissioners were created by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Elected every four years, they replace police authorities in England and Wales, with the exception of Greater London and the City of London. 

Under the terms of the 2011 Act, PCCs must secure an efficient and effective police force for their area. This gives them the power to set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan and set the force budget. Most interestingly, they have the power to appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account and if necessary dismiss them. 

The unfettered nature of this power gave Parliament some cause for concern in 2013 Report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee July 2013 

Early indications are that it is very easy for a police and crime commissioner to remove a chief constable, even when the stated concerns of a PCC are about operational policing matters or are of an insubstantial nature. The statutory process provides little safeguard, since there is nobody—not the police and crime panel, not the Inspectorate of Constabulary, not even the Home Secretary herself—who can over-rule a commissioner who has set his face to dismissing a chief constable….

In April 2020 research from Essex University suggested that the power to remove chief constables from office is having a “corrosive” effect on policing and police accountability.

First, a PCC’s ability to remove their chief constable could cause an instability in police leadership and a potential culture of compliance, as chief constables many close to retirement avoid conflict with their PCC … the ease with which a PCC could remove a chief constable contrasted with the complex process for removing a PCC is seen as having resulted in a concentration of power at odds with the principles of good governance.

We cannot tolerate the police becoming a political force

These concerns have some validity, particularly as the turnout for PCC elections is fairly low in 2016 only 27 per cent, but increased to 33 per cent this year. Given the wholesale abnegation by the police of their fundamental obligation to operate without fear or favour, it might be time to call upon the PCCs to flex their unfettered muscles and send a very clear message to the Chief Constables that we cannot tolerate the police becoming a political force. 

If the police abandon policing with consent in favour of becoming the private militia of one minority group, this will inevitably lead to the loss of trust and confidence among the public. How am I meant to feel as a “terf” if I call the police to report harassment against my protected belief that sex is real, only to find the officers from whom I sought help and protection all sporting the colours of the trans flag?

It would be a sad irony indeed if the police’s continued embrace of active politicking paved the way for their dissolution by politicians. Many of the new crop of PCCs seem willing to challenge the gender identity orthodoxy. If our police forces have abandoned their fundamental duty to be politically impartial, then perhaps it is politicians who must step in to restore order.

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