Total disaster


Total disaster

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Written by: Jon Burnett


Bernard Hogan-Howe’s recent talk on ‘total policing’ at the LSE didn’t go down too well.

‘Total policing’ is how the Metropolitan Police chief, Bernard Hogan-Howe, describes the criminal justice strategy he is importing into London. And part of this strategy, he says, is regularly communicating with the public. At a talk at the London School of Economics on Monday this is exactly what he did. And he got a stark answer.

In hindsight, opening a talk to an audience made up largely of students with a discussion of the importance of policing in times of economic crisis probably wasn’t the wisest thing for a police commissioner to do. The police are facing 14 per cent cuts, he explained. All in the face of increasing protests as the austerity measures begin to bite. But if he was looking for sympathy, he was looking in the wrong place. Students know a lot about austerity measures, you see. They face crippling hikes in their tuition fees in tandem with massive cuts in teaching budgets. They also know a lot about how the police deal with protesters. Over 50,000 students marched through London alone in 2010. One of them, Alfie Meadows, had to undergo emergency brain surgery after being hit by a police officer. Another, Jody McIntyre, was hauled from his wheelchair, dragged across the road and hit with a police baton.

Total policing is underpinned by three ‘C’s, Hogan-Howe explained: crime, cost and culture. He went on to say that it is like the footballing ethos pursued by the great Ajax team and Dutch national side of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Team members play in a fluid formation, replacing any other player who finds himself out of position. Each person is technically equipped to play in multiple positions on the field of play. The culture develops out of the actions of the team. Total policing means doing the things that work again and again. It means, he suggested, total support for the victims of crime. It means total professionalism. It means using the media more effectively to promote the aims of the police. It means better use of new and emerging technologies. It means a total ‘war’ on criminals.

Total policing appears to mean the routine penetration of the criminal justice system into the day-to-day lives of those communities deemed criminogenic and those individuals with criminal convictions. So, according to Hogan-Howe, one example is to routinely stop drivers with no insurance as 80 per cent of drivers with no insurance apparently already have criminal convictions. What this will actually achieve – aside from causing resentment among those who are routinely stopped – is hard to understand. But one clue is in the fact that, according to the Met chief, the drastic increase in the prison population over the last few decades is evidence that the criminal justice system works. And, administratively, he is, of course, right. The criminal justice system is pretty good at processing people in such a way that they end up behind bars. If truth be told, the criminal justice system is so good that that the prison population has doubled since the 1990s whilst, at the same time, recorded crime has decreased. For anyone who wanted a lesson in how to lock up people with mental health problems, foreign nationals, BME communities, young people and people living in poverty, on an industrial scale, they would, in fact, be well advised to look at just how good the criminal justice system in England and Wales really is.

Unfortunately for Hogan-Howe though, those at the LSE didn’t really agree with him. They were pretty angry that so many people have died in police custody. They were pretty angry at the lack of police accountability. They were pretty angry that black people are stopped-and-searched far more than their friends who happen to be white (something which the Metropolitan Police is looking at, apparently), they were pretty angry that black people are over-represented in criminal justice databases. They were so totally angry that when the commissioner left the stage he was serenaded by chants of ‘no justice, no peace, f*ck the police’.

Related links

Read an IRR News story: Reshaping the criminal justice system after the riots

Read an IRR News story: Resisting the Bratton brand: lessons from the US


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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