Cops in crisis: what seems to be the matter, officer?

Saturday 19 October, 5.30pm until 6.45pm, Cinema 2 Institutions in crisis?

From ‘Plebgate’ to the police cover-up of their role in the Hillsborough disaster, the phone-hacking affair and the revelations of police spying on the Lawrence family, trust in the police seems at an all-time low.  When police officer Simon Harwood was found not guilty of killing newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, one broadsheet argued the Police Complaints Commission needed greater ‘teeth, guts, autonomy and drive’ to correct a ‘moral crisis’ at the heart of policing. Most recently, the seemingly unethical behaviour of undercover officers working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad has led Theresa May to announce new vetting procedures as part of a new ‘integrity charter’, and Prime Minister David Cameron raised eyebrows when he described the British police as only ‘relatively honest’.

Traditionally, the role of the police was to protect individuals from crime and disorder. Today, they not only stand accused of restricting free speech and free assembly by arresting tweeters and kettling protestors, but seem embarrassingly inept at dealing with public order situations. During the August 2011 riots, with a risk-averse police force failing to provide basic security, members of the public took to the streets to defend their livelihoods and communities; even the pro-police Tories denounced their ‘timid’ response. In other areas of life however, the police seem to be reaching far beyond their historic brief, whether by arresting football fans for singing offensive chants, or issuing on-the-spot fines to people drinking in public places or dropping cigarette butts. Wider powers to intervene in domestic disputes and the extraordinary amount of energy the police are devoting to investigating historical sex abuse also seem to indicate a new focus for policing.

Is this the worst of both worlds; draconian and petty regarding individual behaviour, strangely fearful and absent when maintaining public order? How can it be that that police have simultaneously hollowed out as an institution, no longer representing the moral order of the crown and state, and yet established completely new forms of social control? With increasingly confusion about what the police are for, how should their role be defined?

Clive Bloom
emeritus professor, English and American studies, Middlesex University; author, Riot City: protest and rebellion in the capital

Professor Roger Graef
CEO, Films of Record; award-winning filmmaker, including the Bafta winning Police series, Police 2001, Turning the Screws, and The Secret Policeman's Ball; visiting professor, Mannheim Centre for Criminology, LSE

Kirk Leech
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

David Petch
retired commissioner, Independent Police Complaints Commission

Dr Jacki Tapley
principal lecturer and associate head (academic), Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Produced by
Neil Davenport sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist
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