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25 August 2011
Were the police too "soft" in their handling of the city riots earlier this month?
Did officers in the Met get too close to their contacts in News International?
In an influential new article, Professor Martin Innes considers the police response to a summer of upheaval.
Writing a major article for the policy magazine, Prospect, Professor Innes, Director of the Universities’ Police Science Institute, traces the delicate balance between control and consent which police have had to manage since the days of Sir Robert Peel.
He challenges Prime Minister David Cameron’s analysis that police response to the Tottenham riots was "too few, too slow, too timid." Professor Innes writes: "Cameron’s analysis ignores the fact that controlled violence is difficult. Violence is chaotic and occurs in emotionally charged situations. This affects both individual officers and the decisions of their commanders."
Professor Innes also disputes claims that years of community policing have made officers too "soft", pointing to falling levels of crime, increased public confidence and lower concern about anti-social behaviour. Instead, he suggests that the police failed to respond to the changing nature of riots, using tactics suited to large-scale demonstrations for what was a more fluid, leaderless disruption. Professor Innes writes: "The reason that police struggled to grip the problem in London was that they brought a 20th Century understanding and tactics to a 21st Century riot."
On the hacking scandal, Professor Innes argues that the problem is not one of institutional corruption but a more subtle one of "undue influence." He writes: "The question is not whether the police and journalists should work closely, but when their dealings overstep the mark. In the case of News International, the accusations that officers sold journalists information have not been substantiated, at least so far. But it is clear that the relationship had become to close."
In looking for solutions, Professor Innes rejects the Government response as being too centred on the "apparatus of police governance." He claims: "It lacks a grasp of policing and the inevitable tensions that lie at its heart."
Instead, Professor Innes says: "A good start would be to return to first principles and clarify what it is that we want policing to do, who the police should be what they are trying to prevent, or propagate, and how to measure performance. Austerity and summer of disturbance provide an opportunity to be far more radical in our thinking.
"Rather than doing ‘more with less’ – a mantra for the austerity era – police should aim to do ‘less with more’. That is, they should aim to intervene less, but with more impact. Assuming that resources will continue to shrink, police should encourage communities to participate more. When money is tight police should be more explicit in focusing on the problems that are most harmful to individual and community resilience."
The full article can be read at: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/08/corrupt-and-confused/ .
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