Politics and policing: Sir Paul Stephenson keeps digging

The row about politics and policing and about police accountability stumbles on.  Sir Paul  (SPS) has used his speech at the Police Superintendents’ Association conference today to set out his views on operational policing and the relationship between politics and policing.

Fair enough, that’s what all Metropolitan Police Commissioners do from time to time.

And what he said was eminently sensible (I certainly agree with it):

“I’ve been brought up in my policing career on the inviolate principle of police operational independence. … Mayor Johnson, and his people at City Hall, would be the first to accept that whilst wider views and opinions are helpful and to be encouraged, the decision of how to actually do it, who to target, where, when to act, what officers to use and how many were decisions for me and my officers, and ours alone.”

That, of course, has to be correct.  I do not want to be part of a society where a politician can instruct the police to arrest a particular individual.  Or for that matter NOT to arrest a particular individual (be it Lord Levy or Damien Green MP).

But SPS’s remarks were billed as a riposte to the interview Uber Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM (the UVCDMKMAM), gave to the Guardian last month.

However, whilst the UVCDMKMAM did say that he and Mayor Boris Johnson (BoJo) had their “hands on the tiller of the Met”.

He also said:

“We cannot tell the commissioner what to do, we trust in his judgment. But at the same time we can say what we think the priorities are and the police authority can set the priorities.”

This was a perfectly accurate re-statement of the proper role of police authorities in setting the strategic direction for police services.  And it reaffirmed the Commissioner’s operational independence.

I commented on this at the time and on the rather intemperate remarks of an unnamed “insider”, quoted in the Evening Standard, as saying:

“Paul has been very robust with Mr Malthouse in recent months. It is ridiculous to say he has wrested control away from the police. He is a local politician thinking he is a national politician. He is very full of himself.”

Now the insider was not SPS – he was away at the time.

However, today we do have the authentic voice of the Commissioner.

According to Sean O’Neill in Crime Central at Times Online, SPS drew a careful distinction between the UVCDMKMAM and other politicians:

“Asserting his view that the operational independence of the police, Sir Paul said he was sure that Boris Johnson and Alan Johnson would wholeheartedly agree with him. “”In fact,” he added, “no sensible politician would think otherwise.”

Is he, perhaps, suggesting that the deputy mayor is not a sensible politician?

And if the message wasn’t clear, the Commissioner followed up in a Q&A session with what seemed a very well-rehearsed remark: “Tillers only come with small boats. Big ships come with bridges and captains – and I’m the captain.””

SPS needs to remember that he has to continue to work with the UVCDMKMAM.  He also ought to bear in mind Lord Denis Healey’s First Law of Holes: when in a hole, stop digging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *