Who Polices the Police?

Mariana Hyde in the Guardian asks:

Who watches the watchmen? Or, to translate Juvenal another way: who polices the police? The answer this week was a New York fund manager, of all unlikely superheroes, who provided the Guardian with key footage of the minutes leading up to the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London. The man came forward because “it was clear the family were not getting any answers”.

If there is anything to feel optimistic about today, perhaps it is the hope that we are witnessing the flowering of an effective inverse surveillance society. Inverse surveillance is a branch of sousveillance, the term coined by University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, and it emphasises “watchful vigilance from underneath”, by citizens, of those who survey and control them.

Not that turning our cameras on those who train theirs on us is without risk. Indeed, one might judge it fairly miraculous that the man was not forcibly disarmed of his camera phone, given that it is now illegal to photograph police who may be engaged in activity connected to counterterrorism.

And here’s a real question. She’s right to say that ‘we do’ or that ‘the free press does’, and it’s been a triumph that the Met was caught out. It really is miraculous that the man who took the footage of the assault (bear in mind that assault was the tip of the iceberg for the territorial support group’s behaviour that day) wasn’t himself arrested or attacked, given that the government recently changed the law to be on their side. But noone else is policing the police. And on reflection it’s a symptom of the bigger problem within political life and civil society. One issue which came up time and again at the Convention on Modern Liberty was that ahead of even changing the electoral system or reforming the House of Lords, the House of Commons has to reform the way in which it polices the executive itself. Tony Blair was accused of making the premiership a quasi-presidential role, but that had been changing for about a generation. The truth is the legislature during his tenure and since has ignored its responsibility to hold the executive to account. It’s lazy, it’s self-serving and has contributed to this dramatic erosion in our civil liberties, not to mention a certain war in Iraq. The crisis in the Met can only be solved when our politicians get a grip on what their overall responsibilities really are.


2 responses to “Who Polices the Police?

  1. Personally, I’m not to sure I really want to be part of a society which scrutinises everything – often so hyper-critically.

    I feel it’ll make some peoples jobs impossible to carry out, particularly those, like the Police, who by their very nature, often have to make snap judgements without the benefit of hindsight.

  2. Should the police’s behaviour not be subject to the utmost scrutiny when their raison d’etre in the UK is based entirely on police by consent? Should we continue to consent when a specific force goes rogue? When the evidence mounts up, and points objectively to one reality and one only should it then not be scrutinised?

    Noone I know has argued that every member of the force is a problem, that would be an absurd assertion to make. But their leadership is publicly jettisoning most of the lessons of the last 20 years, they are regularly failing the people who need them the most, are treating protest and dissent with violence and abuse, whilst lying and covering up when unlawful deaths occur at their hands.

    The DeMenezes shooters didn’t warn him, they had intelligence officers on board who knew he wasn’t a terrorist, yet killed him anyway. They preemptively attacked significant numbers of innocent protesters on April 1st with outrageous violence and tried to conceal their identities before doing so. That isn’t about snap judgment, that is about being out of control. They must be reined back in again.

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