TRUST is an amazing thing. In a relationship or business deal, it is an essential asset. People are heralded for the virtue of being trustworthy. In a community, it is of the utmost importance that all civic and community groups can trust each other. So what happens then when trust fails and scepticism sets in?
As a retired police officer, I have always wanted to see my former employers in a good light. Sadly, over the last few weeks and months, my attitude to the service I loved is dramatically changing.
The sagas of Hillsborough, Orgreave, Savile, Plebgate, roll easily off the tongue. Chief police officers being accused of nepotism quickly follow. What once only applied to a few bad apples now seems to tarnish the whole barrel.
In this country, the entire concept of policing with consent is rapidly approaching a danger point as more and more members of the public lose confidence in the police. Quite simply, the public are not so trusting of the police and the police don’t really seem to care. Dixon of Dock Green appears to have been replaced by Stalin of The Yard.
In a democracy, there should be no person who is above the law. Yet, with every news story that breaks about corrupt police officers, it seems so many believe they are untouchable.
Coupled with this is the attitude of the police to managing their relationship with the Press. It is as if they are hiding in a cave of distrust and see any request under the Freedom of Information Act as a direct attack. Their watchword seems to be total suspicion of anyone investigating them. I have to ask: What do they have to hide?
Openness is the basic principle of any free country. Honesty is another. Policing in Britain today is lacking both.
A few week ago I made an enquiry to my local police headquarters asking why North Yorkshire Police camera vans did not display speed camera warning signs on the approach to vehicles, as laid down in Home Office guidelines.
I am still awaiting a reply. Is it because it might open the appeal floodgates to thousands of drivers caught by the money machines?
These dreadful cameras that appear to be linked to the police bank accounts and not to road safety also add to honest people distrusting those who are supposed to protect and serve.
As a police officer, I always thought I was there to help the law-abiding public. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was there to help. I used my discretion as wisely as possible. I know I didn’t get it right all the time but I tried, as did my colleagues.
It was old-style policing. We spoke to people and we got out of our cars and walked. Our objective was to increase public trust. High public trust in the police will always lead to a high level of public co-operation. All the forces in this country police by consent. I fear that many of the chief officers would prefer to police by coercion.
The major problem with public trust is that many people now realise that some of our county forces are not fit for purpose. They are not only letting down the public, but also the many loyal and hard working, honest officers that serve within them.
I firmly believe that the time has come for the amalgamation of all of our county forces.
Not only would it be a great financial saving, with only one PCC and Chief Constable, but it would also be a fresh start in the perception of the public. This could only lead to a surge in trust for our police force.
The ghosts of Hillsborough and Orgeave, as well as the demonic spectre of the bodged investigations into Jimmy Savile and the Rotherham abusers, could be laid to rest.
The public no longer wants to see the police as a closed shop fearful of inspection of the Press, or a private army for politicians wanting to crush the unions or “fracktivists”. It does not want the police to be used to persecute community journalists.
If the police forces of this county are genuine in their desire to increase the trust of the public in what they do, now is the time for them to be open, honest and more accountable.
Hillsborough, Orgreave, Rotherham and Savile must never happen again. Total policing as advocated by some superior officers has to be replaced by total trust before the consent of the public is withdrawn and a vote of no confidence in what was once an honourable service is cast.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.