By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor
This week Cressida Dick, CBE QPM was appointed as the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the overall leader of the Metropolitan Police Service. Dick, 56, is the first woman to hold the role, having previously served “the Met” as head of counter-terrorism, among other roles, before moving to her current job in the Foreign Office. She will take up the position after current Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, retires. The new Commissioner will be in charge of more than 55,000 police officers, staff, and volunteers.
As Commissioner, Cressida Dick faces many challenges. The BBC’s Danny Shaw describes that, among other things, she will deal with budget cuts, rising violent crime, and political turbulence.
But there’s another issue he didn’t address: whether Ms Dick will uphold Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing, and in particular, resist the urge for further militarisation of the police.
Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing
Sir Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act (1829) established a full-time, professional police force for Greater London. Every member of the Force was issued with “The 9 Principles of Policing”, which, according to (as she was in 2015) Home Secretary Theresa May, now underpin the police’s Code of Ethics and give us the doctrine of “policing by consent”, where the power of the police comes from “the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state”. The 9 Principles are:
- To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
- To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
- To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
- To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
- To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
- To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
- To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that 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.
- To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
- To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
(My emphasis in bold.)
The highlighted clauses emphasise that the police are not meant to be a military force, that physical force is a last resort which should be used judiciously, and that the police are merely members of the public, who rely on the public’s support to perform their duties.
Militarisation of the Police
Despite Peel’s clear guidance, police forces throughout the country, including the Metropolitan Police Service, are increasingly militarising the police by using military equipment and tactics.
Authorised Firearms Officers (“AFOs”) can be issued with pistols, carbines, shotguns and rifles. Depending on the operation officers can wear body armour, “NATO” helmets with visors, and carry riot shields. The Met also has a fleet of armoured vehicles, such as the bullet and bomb-proof Jankel trucks shown below. Much of this equipment can also be found in the armed forces. Many officers “on the beat” have Taser “stun guns”, carry CS or PAVA (“pepper”) incapacitant spray, and batons.
Also, the police are adopting military tactics, sometimes with deadly consequences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in how the Metropolitan Police have dealt with protests.
In 2009 protests about the G20 summit in London became notorious for the police’s use of “kettling”, the practice of keeping protesters penned-in without access to food, water, toilets, or medical supplies. One victim of the police’s tactics for dealing with the protests was Ian Tomlinson. He was not involved in the protest and was simply making his way home when he got caught up in the police operation. Mr Tomlinson died after being struck and pushed to the ground by PC Simon Harwood, a baton-wielding police officer in riot gear, as this footage shows. It took his family more than 4 years to get an apology from the Met, who eventually accepted using “excessive and unlawful force”.
In a more recent case, the current commissioner of the Metropolitan Police apologised after admitting that an officer used excessive force when he unlawfully sprayed CS gas at protesters. The police officer sprayed the gas within 1 metre, which is a breach of police rules because it can damage the victim’s eyes. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe apologised for the use of CS spray which caused “intense pain, momentary loss of sight, and feelings of panic and fear.” He also apologised for the delay in resolving the protesters’ complaints. The officer was only disciplined for his unlawful use of force after the Metropolitan Police had dismissed two internal inquiries and the protesters made police complaints directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
With this background Cressida Dick will soon have to consider aligning Peel’s 9 Principles with:
- increasing the numbers of armed officers
- calls for more officers to be issued with Taser stun-guns
- the use of controversial spit hoods (a.k.a. “spit guards”).
1. Arming more police officers
After the Paris terrorist attacks Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered an increase in the number of armed officers by 600, bringing the total number in the Met to 2,800. This is an increase of 25%, and means that 7% of all Metropolitan Police officers will now be Authorised Firearms Officers (“AFOs”). That number is almost half of all AFOs in England and Wales, and contrasts with Metropolitan Police Federation Chief Ken Marsh’s view that “we are not an armed force at all”.
The Metropolitan Police Federation, which describes itself as “the staff association to which every constable, sergeant, inspector and chief inspector in the Metropolitan Police Service belongs – a total of more than 30,000 officers”, conducted a survey of its members about these issues. 11,000 members responded. In contrast with the Commissioner’s efforts to increase the number of AFOs, they were not overly supportive of the increase in armed officers, or arming the police in general. The survey found that
- 57% did not think there should be more specialist firearm officers
- 74% did not want all officers to be routinely armed
- 12% said they would not carry a firearm under any circumstances.
2. Deploying more Tasers
Despite the scepticism of Police Federation members about arming the Force, its chairman, Ken Marsh, intends to ask for more Tasers, citing another question in the survey above. In contrast to the respondents’ views on arming the police with more powerful weapons, 75% of respondents felt that all officers should have a Taser. This demand comes on the back of a recent increase in the number of Tasers available to the Force. According to the Evening Standard there are currently 4,197 Taser-trained police in the Metropolitan Police.
Increasing Taser use is problematic. Ken Marsh acknowledges Tasers are deadly weapons, as the tragic case of ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson showed. And I have previously explained Tasers can lead to miscarriages of justice because they cause a decline in cognitive functioning which is “comparable to dementia”.
3. Introducing Spit Hoods
Spit hoods, (or, as the Metropolitan Police and Police Federation like to call them “spit guards”) are mesh fabric hoods put over a suspect’s head to prevent the transmission of disease by bodily fluids, such as spit and blood.
The Metropolitan Police planned to trial them in custody suites in October 2016, but cancelled the trial after listening “to concerns”. The Force recently ended a consultation on the use of spit hoods and “hopes to pilot the use of spit guards for three months in five custody suites”.
Unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Police Federation strongly supports the use of spit hoods.
As I explain here, Cressida Dick will need to balance the needs of her officers with the public. And she will need to be wary of the PR spin. Ken Marsh claims that a spit hood “doesn’t affect your breathing at all”. Victims of spit hood abuse, such as my client Paul Smith (details used with permission), would disagree. The hoods can cause or contribute to deaths in custody, irreversible brain damage, and other physical and psychological effects.
Political Pressures on Cressida Dick
Ms Dick’s new role is political as well as professional. The Commissioner has a powerful voice and can help shape public policy and government opinion. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe recently said in a speech about firearms officers:
“When people look at what we do, there should be less suspicion and more trust”
“…we can’t afford to have officers think twice because they fear the consequences of shooting someone. That’s how they get shot, or the public gets hurt or a criminal gets away with a gun.”
In effect: trust us, and give us a break if we get it wrong.
I disagree strongly with Sir Bernard. Police officers, especially ones with the power to take life or cause serious personal injury, must be subject to the law and not above it. If police officers think that firearms, Tasers, spit hoods etc. can be used with impunity they may be more inclined to skip less intrusive techniques, ignoring Principle 6 of Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing, which demands that the police:
“use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient…”
And Ms Dick may personally find it hard to support her predecessor’s policies, particularly with respect to increasing the number of Armed Firearms Officers.
Her appointment is not without controversy. Despite high praise from Prime Minister Theresa May, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the public may remember her as the lead officer in charge of the botched operation which led to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005. Mr de Menezes was mistaken by the Metropolitan Police for a terrorist. Armed police officers shot him 8 times at point-blank range while Mr de Menezes was sitting on an underground train.
Ms Dick was cleared of personal wrongdoing in a criminal trial, despite a finding against the Met of a breach of health and safety rules. But, before her appointment as Commissioner, Mr de Menezes’ family wrote to Sadiq Khan expressing concern about her suitability for the role. They implored the Mayor “to not be party to sending to our family and to the people of London a message that those in power can set aside such a dark stain on the record of the Metropolitan police force.”
The family’s pleas were ignored.
The issue of public confidence, especially in the highest levels of power in the Metropolitan Police, is an important one. As one commuter told the BBC when asked about increasing the numbers of armed officers, he thought it was a “political move” “for show”.
Given Cressida Dick’s past, if more innocent people die or are injured at the hands of her police officers this issue of confidence and trust may come back to haunt her.
Only by following Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing, being mindful of increasing militarisation of the police, and demanding the highest ethical standards from her officers, can Ms Dick seek to maintain public confidence in her role and the reputation of the Metropolitan Police Service.
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police. He represents victims of police misconduct throughout England and Wales.
(Image credit: Cayetano on flickr)