Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Julie Spence tackled public concerns over police tactics during the recent G20 protests in her latest podcast. Several people were injured in the protests and one man, Ian Tomlinson, died after being hit and pushed to the ground by an officer. The incident was filmed and clearly shows that he was not acting in an aggressive manner. Eye-witnesses have claimed that the officers had obscured their identification -to me, the video does not appear to confirm this, but the officer seen striking Mr. Tomlinson can clearly be seen to be masked.
"Your judgement of us, on the other hand, may be based on something as simple as appearance," says Mrs. Spence. "All of this counts - and is one reason, I suspect, that people seemed so concerned about officers failing to display their numbers at the G2o summit protests, and why our decision in Cambridgeshire to put full names on epaulettes seems generally welcome. It demonstrates, in my view, an openness and fairness in policing."
Well, bugger me - a copper talking sense, that's something that you don't come across too often nowadays (if indeed you ever did). She's quite right, too - the police force's reputation has taken almost as much of a hammering as poor old Mr. Tomlinson in recent years, what with the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry's findings and Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian shot seven times by officers using hollow-point dum-dum bullets (which are designed to incapacitate a target with a single successful hit) on the London Underground. Many people now fear the police and are hostile to them, which is bad news for all of us - fear is not the same thing as respect; and the police desperately need to regain our respect.
To do that, they must be 100% open in everything they do, they must be entirely honest and each and every officer must be accountable for his or her actions. A police officer who obscures his or her identity, unless doing so is part of an activity that requires it such as an undercover investigation into drug dealing, has something to hide. Something for which he or she does not want to blamed - in other words, something that he or she should not be doing and which is in all likelihood illegal. Why have they been allowed to get away with doing this? Why are they allowed to get away with wearing masks?
Famously, when the police break the law, there is no law. That's a quote that can be read in two ways - it can mean that when an officer breaks the law, prosecution will not result; but it can also be taken to mean that when an officer breaks the law, law and order begins to break down. The police must not be allowed to act in this way. If the uniforms need to be redesigned to prevent identification from slipping off (see that last link) then so be it - the cost is unimportant, it is a necessity that all officers can be accurately identified by any member of the public.