Political leadership is urgently needed to protect the British brand of policing after years of drift and piecemeal initiatives, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary told The Times last night.
Denis O'Connor said that the principle of policing by public consent had been severely undermined, most visibly by aggressive and unfair tactics at protests such as the G20 demonstrations.
In a highly critical report O'Connor depicted how deploying officers in riot gear had become a routine response to lawful demonstrators because of ignorance of the law surrounding protest and a lack of leadership from chief officers and Home Office
O'Connor said that he had been particularly alarmed to discover that some forces trained officers to use their riot shields as offensive weapons. The potentially dangerous technique had spread by word of mouth.
His report was commissioned after the G20 protests in the City of London in April when one man died and hundreds of complaints were made about police violence, abuse of powers and the tactic of kettling or containment of crowds.
The 150-page document exposed the ad hoc nature of public order policing, with forces across the country differing in the equipment they bought, their training methods and their understanding of their powers to stop, question or arrest protesters.
The failure of police to understand the law was in part explained by the complexity of legislation, with 90 amendments to the Public Order Act since it was passed in 1986.
I would welcome some senior politicians addressing these issues, O'Connor said. We don't have these difficulties, albeit there are some terrible challenges, in defence. There are lots of discussions about health. Can we not elevate the
discussion about policing?
He said that the British policing model, as set down by Sir Robert Peel, should be nurtured and protected and that every policy initiative should be examined to see if it was compatible with the principle of policing by consent.
He added: It gets eroded, potentially, by each new bit of legislation, each new initiative — health and safety, whatever else — to the point where you end up with a shadow of what you thought you had.
It has happened by drift, by the absence of somebody asserting what matters. We need to think about the principles as well as the technical matters.