Tuesday 21 March 2023

Abolish Policing

It's times like these when we see plenty of establishment hand wringing. The report into the Metropolitan Police by Baroness Louise Casey condemned the force as institutionally racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. The objects of this hate are staff, including serving officers, and members of the public. Casey's review found that prejudice was part of everyday life in the Met, that minority ethnicities were disproportionately singled out for police attention, and bullying in the ranks was rife. Nor is there any guarantee there aren't more predators like Wayne Couzens and David Carrick using their uniform to attack women. Responding, Suella Braverman reached for the tried and tested "few bad apples" routine. She said most coppers were motivated by "the utmost professionalism", but the task of "rooting out unfit officers" continues. Current Met Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley accepted the report but said the force had problems with "bias" and that its difficulties are neither systematic nor institutional. Keir Starmer said there was indeed need for "systemic change", and that Labour would be "relentless in demanding progress." Another problem to be solved through better admin.

The New Statesman's editorial argues the Met is beyond saving. It either needs breaking up or abolishing completely. It argues that the Met acts like a semi-autonomous organisation with its own culture, rituals, rules, and a strong sense of collective identity that closes ranks when threatened. It is more akin to the gangs they supposedly police than any law enforcement ideal type one can conjure up. This is undoubtedly true, and it's interesting this line of thinking is also shared by some establishment figures too. The recognition there's something rotten in New Scotland Yard is no longer the preserve of the far left nor the black communities that have suffered at the Met's hands.

But what is to be done? Key actors inside the police are already on the case. They know the force attracts people for whom police powers are a means to a criminal end. We're not talking Ryan from The Line of Duty, but they have actively sought to raise the calibre of the average copper. The on again/off again dalliance with requiring all new recruits to attend university and get a policing degree reveals an Eliasian faith in the civilising process of higher education that would turn out empathetic and more rounded officers. This, they hope, would short circuit the harrowing canteen cultures harboured by many a force. It would wheedle out the would-be predators, the boy racers, and the thugs, and create new constables equipped for conflict resolution and handling mental health crises, which has become increasingly common as the Tories have run the NHS down. This is the culmination of the bad apples/attracting the wrong people critique. Enlightened chief superintendents know what the problems are, and they're replacing the old guard with carefully curated new model coppers.

The problem, however, is less a matter of personnel. If for the next 20 years the Met exclusively recruited graduates, the same issues would manifest and not because there are plenty of the old sweats still about. It's a matter of what the institution is about, what the purpose of policing is. The police's raison d'etre is raison d'etat. They are the force for maintaining "public order", which is always the preservation of the state and, by extension, the rule of capital. It is the first line in the physical application of state authority with crime detection its secondary function. It is set up as an institution of disciplined violence with its militaristic command and control structure, its capacity for "undercover intelligence" (see the spy cops scandal, the targeting of trade unionists, and even the Met's spying on the Lawrence family), and its deployment against designated undesirables: activists, protesters, "illegal" immigrants. None of these are quirks of individual forces, but are characteristics shared by every police organisation not just in Britain but pretty much everywhere you look. They are systemic features. A repressive state apparatus, as Althusser pithily put it.

The toxic culture of the Met corresponds entirely with the organisation's toxic purposes. Discharging the state's monopoly on legitimate violence inculcates a dehumanising outlook. Even if it does not attract the absolute worst people, its framing of certain groups as public order problems encourages racist, sexist, and homophobic conduct and reiterates that as a norm. Even if it goes against regs and the occasional bit of diversity training. And it cannot be otherwise given the police's authoritarian purposes. Having a clear out, putting recruits through university, breaking up and abolishing forces aren't going to turn them into paragons of civic and legal rectitude. No matter how the institution is badged, the same old crap forces itself back up the pipe.

Abolish the police then? Why not? If the aim is the abolition of class society, what purpose for the police? They become entirely superfluous considering their primary role in capitalist society. Crime won't disappear in the future society, but that can easily be the property of some other agency that does not have the maintenance of minority class rule as its purpose. But that's all very well for then, what about now? Given how police powers are employed against racialised communities, and are used to abuse women and sexual minorities, the American call to defund the police can have resonance here, especially where "policing" is the by-word for harassment and curtailing meagre liberties. But this does not go far enough. Just as it's right to load down capital with obligations and regulations - something the workers' movement has long fought for - we should do the same with the police. This is not a call for more bureaucratic oversight as per key performance indicators of the Starmerist imagination, but rather more democracy. It recognises the limited accountability of the old police and fire authorities, and offices of Police and Crime Commissioners never challenged policing, and indeed were/are half-hearted sops to popular accountability. I haven't got a ready made model, but the aim of extending democratic control is about eroding policing and the policing function, of problematising the 'repressive' and the 'state' aspects of the repressive state apparatus, working to neutralise them, and refocusing it on crime detection and community priorities. Which, after all, is why a lot of police recruits join the police in the first place. The demand for democracy is about initiating a process, one moment of transforming/undermining a key prop of the state and empowering our collective strength.

Image Credit


Ken said...

A return of the SPG, but separate from the policing, that is, non-repressive force? Doesn’t the French system do this with the CRS? However, they are militarised, live in barracks cut off from normal civilian society, and in the past, recruited from the more backward, least proletarian parts of France. If you watch film or peruse photos, you notice that they have no identification badges, and unlike the police at Orgreave where this took place, it is absolutely part of the uniform.
Any specialised force is prone to over identification with the unit and resist managerial “interference”, such as insisting they work within a legal framework.
I’m not confident that the report’s to-do list will even take place as a whole, given the Commissioner’ comments on institutionalised malfeasance. There is some comfort that it does look like a spectacular inability to read the room, given the coverage yesterday.
However, even so, it’s difficult not to welcome the end of the untouchability of the Met, most exemplified by the murder of Blair Peach in plain sight by Met officers in the SPG, no arrests, spying on the mourners, and, long term Spycops activities concerning his supporters. It’s a pretty spectacular fall, though a pity it took the death of Sarah Everard to kick it off.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Have you read "Corruptible" by Brian Klaas? It is full of interesting stories. One was about the Police force in a small Alaskan town, called Stebbins. There, every single police officer, including the Police Chief, had convictions for domestic violence. The Chief had 17 convictions, including for sexual abuse of a minor! Yet the rules clearly a said that applicants to the Police could not be felons or have convictions within the last 5 years. Yet they all did. Why? because nobody else applied. No one.

Klaas also talks about how the US Police are highly militarised, and advertise the fact in recruitment videos. In contrast, NZ created adverts targeting public service, compassion and helpfulness. They actively sought to recruit people who wanted to help others and were able to increase the number of minority and female officers. It's not just who you ask, it's how, and then having filters to screen out the ones that you don't want. It seems the Met has such filters, but they work in reverse and screen out the good people.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

What struck me was how flatfooted Rowley was in his response. It was as if nobody with any sense had advised him. He basically said "I accept the report in full, but its wrong". A quite astonishing lack of insight and mind-boggling failure to grasp the situation. How can anyone have any trust in his being able to "turn it round"? He may be a step up from the disaster that was Cressida Dick, but he clearly is as much part of the problem as any serving officer.

I think they need to follow the RUC abolition route and replace the Met with the PSGL (Police Service of Greater London). Every officer from top to bottom should be required to reapply, and their record scrutinised. It is tough on the good ones, but they will get through it, and they will be in a far healthier environment. I would also have a Commission followed by a Citizens Assembly to review how policing in general should be structured based on evidence from all over the world, to find a model that works and would have popular support from across society.

Dipper said...

Tory here. Most of my Tory friends agree with abolishing the police. They've become a woke police overseeing racial humiliation on the native population. Autistic boy disrespects the Quran - his mother has to beg for his life, and the police oversee this process. The failure of the police to not just intervene in grooming gangs but in individual cases to actively assist the grooming gangs. The police intimidating people who voice generally critical opinions such as 'biological sex is real'. And they don't investigate actual crimes that people would like investigating.

So please go ahead and abolish them. I'll happily vote in a sheriff and volunteer to assist in crime prevention and protection.

Robert Dyson said...

Your analysis is pertinent on the police role of protection of class interest. In any group of people working in some area you will usually have closing ranks when a problem arises. I'm not sure how the balance is kept. I still have faint memories of Dixon of Dock Green from the 1950s when we first got TV. Because I never otherwise encountered the police for a long time I guess that was my wholesome police image. How do we avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water?

JN said...


Trolling much? Oh, yeah, the police who apparently systematically ignore the most blatant warning signs about some of their officers until they commit multiple rapes or murder are too "woke" for you? Aye, very good. If you aren't a troll, you're a psycho.

Also, as someone who is autistic, just fuck you for using autism for one of your talking points, you opportunistic prick. I am, for very obvious reasons, in favour of better understanding of autism by the neurotypical majority, but don't try to rope us into whatever Islamophobic shit you're trying to peddle. Again, fuck you.

Kamo said...

Policing in the UK needs to be made more localised, with more local level democratic control and prioritisation. The over-centralisation means forces are swayed by political fads rather than boots on the ground protection for every day people who are the victims of real crimes. People saying hurty things on social media is unpleasant, but what I really want is someone to deal with muggings, burglaries, boy racers and feral yobs where I live. Making it more localised will also force those over-policed and under-protected communities to reconcile what they actually want; at the moment grievance professionals will complain about negative behaviours inside their communities whilst also complaining at anything likely to make a meaningful impact on those behaviours. Instead of self-appointed community leaders giving opinions, lets have locally elected community leaders setting the priorities and justifying the consequences.