The UK Home Affairs Committee chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, has warned that this year's revelations relating to British police forces have damaged the public's perception of law officers and resulted in a dip in trust.
British police forces around the UK have been affected by the government's austerity measures and future planning. Some services are set to go into the private sector, although the government initially maintained that only "back room" jobs would be affected. Early this year however many media resources reported that the changes would be more wide sweeping. In February 2012 the Independent reported that:
A private security firm has signed a contract to build, design and help run a police station. G4S has signed the deal, thought to be the first of its kind, with Lincolnshire Police Authority in a move which could save the force £28 million, the firm said.
That was of course before G4S failed to fulfill its contract to "police" the London 2012 Olympics. Instead at the proverbial seventh hour the government had to draft in huge numbers of military personnel leaving many politicians with "egg on their faces"
The government decided to pull the plug on its expansion of G4S usage, albeit temporarily. In July, as the Olympics security fiasco looked set to damage Britain's reputation on the world stage, one police force decided to cut its ties with G4S. The Guardian reported that:
Surrey Police Authority decided on Thursday to suspend its involvement in the £1.5bn joint "business partnership programme" with the West Midlands police after a discussion in which the failure of G4S to deliver on Olympics security was cited as a factor.
For a time many people in the UK had some sympathy with the police due to the government's proposed cuts and changes. That sympathy however has waned with each new revelation this year. Whilst some such as the media scandal, Jimmy Savile affair and Hillsborough tragedy are historic they have still damaged trust and confidence in British police.
The latest slur against some members of a police force has been allegations that during what is now called the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate affair" officers lied. When government Minister Andrew Mitchell had an altercation with officers guarding Downing Street in September it all seemed quite funny. He allegedly wanted the officers to open a gate which would allow him to ride his bicycle out of the street. They refused and he lost his temper. How far his rage went and what was said ended up a crucial point.
Much was made of the allegation that Mitchell called the officers plebs. Why this word may incense more than an expletive may escape you. It is however as it is taken from the Latin word for the lower classes, Plebeian.
As many of the Coalition Government front bench Ministers have benefited from a Public School education it could be used as a well chosen word to show class divisions
Mitchell was put into an untenable position in government and ultimately did the "decent thing" and resigned. Many however thought he jumped before he was pushed. The deed was done though and the affair over, however it was not.
This storm in a tea-cup has dogged police. There have recently been allegations that a witness did not really exist and that confidential police logs were leaked to the media. This week the Metropolitan Police Force is facing some tough questions. According to the Daily Mail:
Scotland Yard boss Bernard Hogan-Howe was fighting for his credibility last night as senior Tories said he was ‘completely compromised’ by the police ‘stitch-up’ of Andrew Mitchell.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner flew home from holiday amid claims that he blindly accepted the word of officers in Downing Street who said the former Tory chief whip called them ‘plebs’.
Mr Hogan-Howe was even branded ‘extremely foolish’ by a former director of public prosecutions.
Last month the commissioner – who is expected to be given a knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours – said the officers had ‘accurately reported what happened’.
It is not hard to see why public perception of the police and confidence in their abilities is at an all time low. This year's Leveson inquiry into failings at the Met with regard to phone hacking and corruption left the general public with a nasty taste in their mouths.
Mr Vaz will begin an inquiry into Police practises in January 2013 reports the BBC The British Home Office has chosen to claim that confidence in the British Police remains high. That is certainly debatable.
In the Sunday Express Mr Vaz wrote: Crime may be low but confidence in the police service appears just as low and their morale is even lower.
The inquiry is set to look at a wide range of policing issues such as pay, conditions, honesty, accountability and will address any changes necessary in corruption reporting policies already in place.
One person we should not forget when talking of confidence here in the UK in British Police is Ian Tomlinson. Having followed the long journey that his family made for justice it is a familiar case to us. In the end the police officer who pushed Mr Tomlinson to the ground, P C Harwood, was found not guilty in July 2012. Ian died at the scene where he fell. He was a man who was making his way home from work when he became entangled in a G20 protest in 2009. Police were moving people on and for Ian he was sadly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After this year's verdict regarding P C Harwood revelations followed. An inquiry into the pathologist working on the case was set up. Worse still details of Harwood's police career since joining the force in 1995 appeared to show a "rogue" police officer.
Home Secretary Theresa May may choose to believe that confidence in British police remains high but the majority of people in the UK are more likely to agree with Mr Vaz that confidence is at a low point. His calls for conversation between the police and the current government as a "defining moment" in this crisis should not go unanswered.