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The row over the plan by UK Tories, the majority party in the country’s current coalition government, to introduce elected commissioners to oversee the day-to-day operations of Britain’s police is likely to rumble on in 2012. The first such elections will take place next November.
On 10 May 2011 the Guardian newspaper reported “mounting concern from senior police officers, including the Metropolitan police commissioner, over the threat to their operational independence posed by elected commissioners”. This concern is said to have been shared by leading members of the Liberal Democrat Party, which is the junior partner in the governing coalition. The next day, 11 May 2011, as a result of a Liberal Democrat rebellion, the plans were thrown out in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of Parliament). After its defeat, the Government said it would look to redress this setback in the House of Commons (the lower chamber). The Liberal Democrats subsequently caved in and the bill introducing the commissioners was passed in the Commons.
The controversy erupted during a year when the media succeeded in exposing the widespread long-term surveillance of radical green and leftwing groups by covert police spies posing as militant activists.
Antigone1984 believes that the octopus of police state UK is winding its tentacles ever more tightly round the liberties of innocent citizens as the juggernaut of covert surveillance barrels out of control. To reverse this, one thing is essential: the hitherto untouchable sacred cow of day-to-day police operational policing must be brought under direct democratic control. The string of instances of police excesses and errors in recent years demonstrates conclusively the need to strip the police of their absolute operational independence. Occasional fireside chats on policing policy between senior police officers and ministers are no substitute for direct democratic surveillance of routine police operations. As things stand, the police are effectively a law unto themselves and naturally they want to keep it that way. It is more than ironic that – on the grounds that this might result in representative oversight of operational policing – the libertarian Liberal Democrats have seen fit to challenge the proposal by their coalition partner to introduce democratically elected police commissioners. While Antigone1984 believes that any move towards greater police accountability is a step in the right direction, it can see the danger of placing too much power in the hands of a single US-style police commissioner. For this reason, it favours the election of local police commissions, composed of at least 10 members, to oversee the day-to-day operations of local police forces. These commissions would not merely comment on police operations. They would supervise and control those operations as well as police budgets. Local police forces, from chief constables downwards, would be accountable to them and subject to sanction by them.