The Police and Us
I T is a delusion for the Home Secretary to hope that, by inactivity and the simple passage of time, the police will be restored to the position in our confidence that they held twelve months ago : before Sheffield, Challenor, their failure to trace virtually all the money and most of the ringleaders of the mail-train robbery, and now their failure to explain or to terminate the escape of one of those leaders who was arrested. When criminals can concentrate the resources of skill, organisation and finance shown in successful robbery after robbery, the unfortunate thinness of the police's equi- valent assets are laid embarrassingly bare.
Yet, tempting though it is for motorists and others to use the police as whipping- boys (most of us enjoy the satisfaction of criticising father-figures), it would be a fatal error simply to go on doing that. The plain truth is that the police are the scapegoats for our own lack of social responsibility. Principally this is expressed in two ways : first, indirectly, in the parsimonious budget which our central and local governments give to defend us in the professional criminals' war, and secondly, by our per- sonal failure to Participate.
The Munich-like state of our police de- fences—unable alike to retaliate or to deter —is demonstrated by the fact that Scotland Yard has yet to be given its first computer, which could sift in twenty minutes the num- ber of fingerprints which at present laboriously occupy ten men for six weeks. The chief of the New York police has described his computer as 'the most valuable tool of law enforcement we have had in years.' The results of the traditional British police methods are in the Metropolitan Commissioner's latest Report : less than one-in six of housebreak- ings in London last year were solved, and of the property stolen in burglaries and housebreakings in London last year a derisory 3.8 per cent has been recovered.
The strength of the Criminal Investigation Department in London and other urban areas needs to be reinforced by 50 per cent as an immediate priority . and eventually doubled : it is ludicrous to continue to expect any detective to cope with over 500 cases each year, as many. are attempting to do in London at present. For the sake of crime prevention and public relations. how- ever, we cannot withdraw men from the beat: the proper solution is to employ far more civilians on -administrative tasks and to prcvide the police with the latest scien- tific aids.
To safeguard the future, steps must also be taken to change drastically both the number and quality of police recruiting. Despite an extensive advortising campaign, the number of police officers in:, Eng- land and Wales once again last year fell even farther below full establishment (which is itself a considerable under- estimate, especially as regards the London area). There is a growing body of evidence that the main difficulty here is social isola- tion and not the rates of pay. Police officers speak movingly of their own and their families' ostracism on and off duty.
In the long run, however, the most crucial as well as the most intractable problem is our, the public's, lack of involvement in the work the police do on our behalf. The civic responsibility of the British people in peace but not in war time so often extends to a few friends that they know, and stops short of the whole community. The glib explana- tion that insurance has made people care- less of property is not the root cause: there have been failures of members of the public to come to the assistance of victims of violence in this country almost as reprehen- sible as the horrifying Genovese case in New York. In a society with a truer sense of values, the recent award of a George Medal to a policewoman would not be excep- tional,: the highest honours should go to such people who risk their lives.
The police themselves could also do much to close the widening loss of contact be- tween them and the public. The higher ranks seem as distrustful in this field as in others of modern methods. There is much more to public relations than merely issuing an occasional success story to the press. A permanent televis'ion studio should have been established a long time ago at Scotland Yard. Above all, the Home Secretary should allow independent inquiries into all serious allegations against the police (as there should also be for those against law- yers and all the monopolistic professions). Mr. Brooke's incredulous inaction for many months in the Sheffield and Challenor cases' did as much damage to public confidence as the cases themselves.
The essential truth to remember, how- ever, is that the police are not a group apart from, or opposed to our community : they Are part of us. Every society, including our own, gets the police that it deserves.