I would give up... the police service

Professor Tim Hope
Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I would give up the police service, particularly the uniformed branch, and its officers.

There is no evidence that they are effective in any of the tasks and functions they set themselves to perform in society, especially those deterrence, surveillance and apprehension functions that have now become a perversion of the ‘Peelian Principles’ that are still claimed to be their mandate.

Their leadership is self-serving and obsessed with the exercise of power and the garnering of status, the rank and file riven through with a culture of prejudice and blind morality, which counterpoises 'us' (i.e. them) against 'them' (i.e. us). They crave the public’s respect for their role in safeguarding liberty while resisting any democratic accountability to the communities they purport to serve. To justify their existence, they claim a spurious expertise in fighting crime (which they cannot) while fiddling the figures and stopping and searching those whom they regard as 'police property' - populations whom they believe they have an authority to consider suspicious. The police fail to support and protect the vulnerable against the harms they experience to the extent that they are ineffectual against those who cause them harm.

The case for Police Abolitionism is derived from the ethical and moral principles of abolitionism often voiced with regard to penal institutions. In our contemporary world, a uniformed police cannot be a civil society institution; yet genuine control and prevention of crime is only achievable through the institutions of civil society, since the harms of crime are suffered by powerless citizens.

What to have instead?

To serve the public good, the uniformed police service should merge thoroughly with the community health, ambulance and fire services to become a harm-response service with the delegated task of protecting and offering succour to the victims of crime. Alongside the other public services, the police should promote community safety as a means of promoting public health based upon a genuine public commitment to the well-being of the community, in all its many varied and diverse ways of life. Nor when its services are not required should it intrude upon the privacy and liberty of citizens.

To fulfil their role as a public service, a level of education and training is needed for entry into a profession that can stand alongside other public servants such as nurses, teachers and social workers instead of the in-service indoctrination of impressionable recruits lacking in either higher education or life-experience.

As for the many investigative and regulatory functions performed by the state, including law enforcement, appropriate agencies need to be formed and staffed by their own investigatory officials, with as much, or as little, powers of investigation and arrest as their statutory foundations allow them. Since much of this activity now takes place or is known about in cyberspace, regulatory and policing functions need to be focussed appropriately and competently by suitable agencies, rather than seen as simply another task to be grabbed by a squad of hastily trained police officers.

Finally, the maintenance of public order and safety should also fall within the capability of a civil harm-response service. Those political liberties upon which the police were founded did not sanction paramilitary force, nor do we need it now.

As part of our Justice Matters initiative we are challenging people to think about a criminal justice practice, policy or institution to abolish or abstain from. It can be conventional or unconventional – the choice is yours. To find out more and take part click here