Ian Acheson Ian Acheson

How Theresa May’s war on the police backfired

British law enforcement is famous around the world for its brand of neighbourhood policing. But this now exists largely in memory in the place where policing was invented. Our capability to police in this way, that has protected society since the time of Robert Peel, has all but collapsed. The only surprise about the five ex-Metropolitan Police chiefs’ blistering attack on the ten years of Conservative policy that achieved this is how long it’s taken them to get their act together.

For a period of time between 2009 and 2011, I had a pretty unique perspective on policing in Britain. By day I was the senior Home Office mandarin in south west England, overseeing performance on crime, drugs and counter terrorism policy. As the sun fell, I put on a cape (okay, badly-designed stab vest) and emerged as special constable 74170 available for village fetes, sheep with no road sense and pensioner whispering.

Occupying these two roles was instructive in seeing at first hand the outworking of Marsham Street wonkery on the mean streets of Bovey Tracey. For example the perverse incentive to criminalise not very bright teenage ne’er do wells (who simply needed a metaphorical kick in the arse) to feed Soviet style targets on offences brought to justice. Or the shire county psychosis about dog fouling and weeds that routinely put the ridiculously safe Devon and Cornwall force area at the bottom of specious police confidence targets.

I’ve hung up my boots now but have retained an affectionate interest in policing policy and practice in our corner of the world and beyond. The UK’s ‘community policing by consent’ model is still a shining beacon for how to do the business globally. Yet the reality, as the letter from five former Met chiefs, is rather less rosy.

Lord Condon, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair, Sir Paul Stephenson and Lord Hogan-Howe, who between then ran the Met from 1993 to 2017 don’t mince their words.

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