Solidarity and the Police - RSA

Solidarity and the Police


  • Criminal justice
  • Institutional reform

"‘Safer together: policing a global city in 2020’ didn’t just identify the threats, it also made clear that law enforcement could only ever be part of a wider response by the public services. 

Sir Bernard asked us - his senior team – to ensure that our modernisation plans reflected the RSA’s thinking, and I think that will be evident today."

Martin Hewitt, Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police

Any mention of the word solidarity in the context of police is likely to raise eyebrows. My purpose here is not to rehearse the range of cases in which police forces have engaged in ‘solidaristic’ activity that resulted in miscarriages of justice or covered them up. At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish collusive forms of solidarity from solidarity in the public interest. It is this latter form that the RSA recommended in its ‘Safer Together’ report in which a ‘shared mission’ was advocated for the Metropolitan Police, public services, business, the voluntary sector and London’s communities.

A year from publication of that report, the Met’s Assistant Commissioner, Martin Hewitt, came to the RSA today to outline how this shared mission was to be deployed in response to the vulnerability agenda with specific reference to child protection. The proposals involve the establishment of a new safeguarding service embedded in local policing. This new service will focus on protecting vulnerable people, adults as well as children, from violence, abuse, sexual offending and radicalisation.

Protecting the vulnerable relies on a complex web of relationships. By situating specialist policing capability at a local level, this set of relationships can be deepened, extended and structured in new ways.

The best, most effective responses rely on a two-way sharing of information with others such as local authorities or community groups. Knowledge of what is effective and, indeed, what is not has to be systematically embedded in the skills of police officers from first response to follow-up work in partnership with others. For example, the charity, Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, has worked closely with the Met in west London. Together the charity and the police working have achieved a non-repetition rate of domestic violence that is 15 percent higher than the national average.

The RSA recommended that these principles of collective goal-setting, common working, information sharing, system learning be spread across the range of complex needs and vulnerabilities that the police, with others, are required to respond to. This is a publicly-focused solidarity.

So in this context, the transfer of specialist vulnerability work to a local setting is a positive first step. Banal as it may be to state, the hard work starts now. The task is to not simply situate specialist knowledge at a more local level but to construct a sense of shared mission. A local version of a central specialist unit will miss the key elements of a new solidarity. Local is about local relationships; fragmentation that is local is no better, and may even be worse, than fragmentation at the centre.

Policing is, of course, just one area of activity. Across the entirety of public services new outward facing solidarities are sorely needed. The method of relying on initiative and innovation on one hand and policy and centrally directed resources on the other have a very significant missing piece in the middle. That is the space where connections between public institutions, civil society, and those who rely on or are protected by services sits.

That is why the RSA is exploring the links between performing arts and education attainment and between informal community-based learning and wider educational and working opportunities. It is why we are looking at different ways of sharing responsibility for rehabilitation across communities in our future prison work (to be published next week). And it is driving our work with the NHS that is seeking to understand the connection between health services, voluntary organisations and communities. Public services can do hierarchy and they can contract out to the market but cementing new forms of solidarity in the public interest has largely proven elusive.

Many millions if not billions of hard investment have been sunk into partnership initiatives that have failed. Millions more will be too – the prize of joined up systems, straddling public services, private sector and civil society is so great. Setting policy and allocating expenditure are the easy decisions to make in some respects – no matter how ineffective these can be in reality. A deep sharing of values, resources - forging a new common mission - are much more complex undertakings. However, we can’t realistically improve protection of vulnerable citizens without drawing strength from greater solidarity. 

After all, what is solidarity if not the core principle on which the police was founded as articulated by the service's founding father:

"The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

The Metropolitan Police deserve some credit for even embarking on this difficult mission. 

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