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Ann Barnes

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What is This Fascination With all Things American?

Posted: 16/08/11 13:01

What a week this has been! Violent disorder on the streets, the pointing of fingers of blame, the police infuriated with the politicians, the politicians cross with the police for not responding quickly or firmly enough at the start of the problems and now, when you think it couldn't get any worse, the bringing over of a retired American cop to tell our officers how to police, or so it seems to them. They do have a point though, as Mr Bratton's successes were achieved in different circumstances and with thousands more officers on the streets than we have here or are likely to have.

And what is this fascination with all things American? Mr Bratton wrote a very interesting piece in the Guardian on Saturday which I really enjoyed reading, but he did set my alarm bells ringing at one point. He said that US Police Chiefs would be fired for speaking out against the politicians who employed them, namely the elected mayor or the elected Police Commissioner. So, that explains then why the life span of a Police Chief in the US is just two years! Mind you, come September our own Metropolitan Police Service will have had three Police Chiefs in just three years, and the Met's model of police governance is supposed to be the pilot model for the introduction of the American-style elected Police Commissioners here next year.

He also talked of the crisis in policing in the UK. Well, what crisis in policing? There may well be a crisis in society on the back of the violent disorder last week. The police openly admit that they were not as quick to recognise the scale and type of disorder as they would like to have been, but they very quickly put that right and are now looking as I write at more appropriate tactics for policing such violent disorder. They have always been open to adapt and change as circumstances dictate, taking on board lessons from around the world. So please, can we get a grip on reality here.

There is no crisis in policing. I spent a lot of time in New York and it is true that crime was brought down significantly, but it was going to drop when the streets were flooded with thousands more police officers, standing in ones and twos on practically every street corner, packing guns. They certainly frightened me and I wasn't doing anything wrong! It was policing by enforcement, not our model of policing by consent. I know which I prefer.

On a brighter note, Kent Police Authority spent the whole of Friday in Chatham speaking to local residents about the national disorder and the response of Kent's Police. There was 100 per cent support for our officers and staff and praise for the no-nonsense policing that no one had to order the Chief Constable to do. In his professional judgment, those were the correct tactics to employ, with my 100 per cent support for him and his staff. I shall be sharing with the force the overwhelming words of encouragement and the contents of letters I have received from grateful residents. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to speak to us and to write to me.

I do though have a little grumbled myself, well not so much a little grumble but a very big one! Like many people around the country I spent some time on Wednesday last week listening to the debate in the Commons. Apart from the few comments from the far wings of the political divide, I thought that our politicians were mostly measured in what they had to say and supportive of and thankful to the police and the other emergency services - and then I was rooted to the spot and very angry indeed.

A question rose about perhaps it was time to think again about the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners next year, given the difficulties around the whole police agenda at the moment. Now I know that this idea is the PM's "baby" and dear to his heart, but that does not excuse his complete dismissal and disregard for all the hard work that Police Authority members and officers do all over the country. He called us invisible and ineffective, if my memory serves - the official mantra that comes from every minister and every Home Office official at every opportunity and is as insulting now as when it was first uttered.

Theresa May the Home Secretary went even further in insulting Police Authority Chairs in her speech this morning. She too is obviously unaware of the real work that Police Authorities did in their communities last week.

Well let me tell you, just because you say something over an over again, does not make it true, if it isn't, and this isn't!

His unfair remarks are particularly hurtful at a time when we have all been working so hard. I had thought to write to him but it is very unlikely that he would ever see it, so I am taking the liberty of writing an open letter here instead.

If anyone out there sees it, please tell him about it.

Dear Mr Cameron,

Re Commons debate last week and the dismissive comments about Police Authorities

During these difficult times, Police Authority members and staff throughout the country have attended Gold group planning meetings , making sure that police responses would be appropriate and proportionate, worked on Community Impact assessments with officers and community leaders and have been out and about in their communities reassuring people and listening to their concerns.

They have forged bridges between individuals and the police and other services. They have hit the airwaves to spread reassurance and calm, talked to local papers, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their senior officers, giving them 100 per cent support, canvassed local views about the policing response, written to all members of their force with their thanks for all their hard work and they will deal with the aftermath of the disorder too, not least the financial implications. In other words, they have done their job very visibly and very effectively.

I am not a politician, Mr Cameron, I do not belong to a political party. I am an Independent member of my Authority and I write to you with absolutely no political motive in mind. It grieves me to do so, but I refuse to leave unchallenged your dismissal of good, honest citizens and what they do for our communities. It is unworthy of you and hurtful to so many people who only ever wish to give of their best for the public good - Police Authority members are actually your Big Society at work! You may not want them, but please do not insult them. They don't deserve it.

Yours sincerely,

Ann Barnes,
Chair, Kent Police Authority.

Oh dear! I do sound cross! Well I am cross and I make no apologies for it, but lastly, now that I have got that off my chest, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Chief Constable, his officers and staff for their hard work during this difficult time.

They have worked round the clock, had leave cancelled, travelled to trouble spots throughout the country to give help to they colleagues. In other words, they too have done their job - and it's a job well done. Thank you all very much.

I'll finish by quoting the words of a lady who kindly wrote to me recently:

'I would like to reiterate that the silent majority in this country have immense pride in our outstanding police force.
They showed great bravery and professionalism amid the mass criminal disorder on the streets of England last week.
The decent law-abiding citizens of this country are on your side.
I believe I speak for this vast majority when I say thank you for your courage, bravery and professionalism.
You remain, in our opinion the finest police force in the world.'

 

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