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I was disappointed, although not altogether surprised, to read yesterday that Stafford Scott and John Noblemunn have resigned from the IPCC community reference group. The three-man group was set up following the shooting of Mark Duggan to help ensure community confidence in the investigation. Scott is quoted in the Guardian as saying that Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) errors have caused him to lose faith in its investigation, that it is ‘flawed and in all probability tainted to a degree that means we will never be able to have faith in their final report into the killing’.
These are strong words indeed, and again highlight the ridiculous situation which leaves the IPCC without a strong and independent leader at its helm. I have personal experience of working in communities shattered by incidents such as the shooting of Mark Duggan, and of clearing up the aftermath left by a poor police response to community demands for a transparent investigation into what if anything went wrong. After all, it is the police officer on the ground that bears the real brunt of any mistakes made by poor management, and I believe the defensive nature of the IPCC and Met investigations to be the root of their failure to reassure the public.
I began my career as a police officer in East London in 1979. Dalston, the first station where I was posted is a multicultural community, and I enjoyed its diversity hugely. I would describe myself as an inherently non racist person. I embraced the cultures of the area where I worked, and perhaps my attitude to all showed through clearly enough. I never had an issue with anyone. If people shouted at me, I spoke more quietly so they had to lower their voice to hear me. If they threatened me with violence, I pointed out it would hardly be a fair fight. Distraction, so effective with toddlers, was key.
Maybe my enthusiasm for my fellow person also made me more ‘likeable’, and we were far more likely to end up having a chat than a fight. Sometimes, of course, there is no reasoning with a person because they are ill or drunk and sometimes, yes, it’s very scary. I was particularly scared during the Brixton riots, or when walking the streets of Stoke Newington alone on night-duty foot patrol.
However, and I’m sorry if you don’t recognise this, or rather I’m happy if you don’t recognise this, some of my most frightening experiences have been due to my colleagues. It’s worth remembering that police officers are drawn from society. They don’t put on a magic cloak of fairness and tolerance and justice with that uniform. They’re the same as you or I. There was am bit of a ruckus in the Twittersphere over David Allen Green’s post on his Jack of Kent blog where he argued that police officers were ‘the people who want to put on uniforms so as to coerce members of the public. It is right to be wary of such people’. I’m not going to comment, other than to briefly reflect that you can develop that line of reasoning as grounds for being wary of politicians, teachers and – gulp – lawyers.
In the same way that the majority of people out there are good, of course, there are some ‘bad apples’ in the police. The difference is though, that the ‘bad apple’ plumber, or mechanic, or shop assistant doesn’t have the same effect on your life as a police officer potentially can. You can walk away from a mechanic, not take your business back to that plumber, but a police officer can deprive you of your liberty, and in extreme situations, your life. If he’s a bad apple he can assault you and make it look lawful. And he can get away with it by telling lies in Court, and not only will you not be believed, but you may end up with a criminal conviction to boot. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be, and what kind of corrosive impact it might have on your life from then on?
I have been the victim of misogynistic bullying, and sexual harassment from both a fellow and a senior officer who frankly should have been better people. It was a shock to my idealistic and young self to realise that some people were so bad that they could make your life a misery, or indeed that they would want to. Put that same immoral bully in a dark alley, with a truncheon and no witnesses and it’s not too difficult to imagine what ‘could’ happen.
Yes, I can hear you shouting, but that’s not all officers, don’t generalise, most are good, and so on and so forth. Of course they are, but most of the recent commentaries I’ve read seemed to be hung up on a defensive stance on behalf of the ‘good cops’. This defensiveness by individuals (none of whom would behave like this) upsets me. The Met as a whole seem to adopt this defensive stance, and so do the IPCC. I want them to say this and say this alone: something has happened and we will investigate and get to the bottom of it. End of.
At the moment it comes across as, something has happened, and we’ll clear everybody as soon as we can. Not all police officers are bad, the vast majority are good, doing a job you or I would not be prepared to do, and we are very grateful that they do it. (I for one could never be paid enough money to carry a gun and make a split second decision to shoot which could end up with me standing trial for murder.) But when things go wrong, they go seriously wrong, and the public need reassurance that those wrongdoers will be rooted out and dealt with transparently. I just don’t think the IPCC are fit for purpose at present. For the avoidance of doubt, I make no link between the events leading to the shooting of Mark Duggan and any suggestion of wrongdoing.