Category: Factual & Arts TV
Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, tonight gives The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2005.
The lecture is broadcast on BBC ONE at 10.40pm.
The text of Sir Ian's lecture follows:
Good evening. What kind of police service do we want? Let me begin with a story.
"A riot is going on. Bottles, bricks and petrol bombs are raining down but the line of police officers is standing firm. Suddenly, one turns and runs. The young man runs and runs and then collides with a tall dark figure. Without looking up, he says, 'I am sorry, Sarge. I just couldn't take it any longer.'
"A voice says, 'This isn't your sergeant, son, this is the Commissioner.' 'Ah', says the lad, 'I am so sorry. I didn't know I had run back that far.'"
I usually tell that to new officers and their families, as they finish their initial training. I use the joke primarily to poke fun at myself but also to emphasise that, like every Commissioner since the 1960s, I have been a constable as well as the Commissioner.
Therefore, I am telling these officers, I know what you will experience, for good and ill, and I am also telling the families that I know what you are feeling because mine felt the same, worried about dangers ahead.
However, even within that explanation, there may be potential for concern about whether the police service is open enough to outside influence, a thought to which I will return.
During the next 40 minutes, I will sketch a brief history of British policing but I will also be asking three interlinked questions.
What kind of police service do we want, who should decide that and how?
The first question, what kind of police service do we want, could be asked at any time but two days this year seem to me to demand that it be answered now, in our time.
I start with 7th July, when 52 people were killed in the largest single act of murder in modern English history, an event which has profound implications for our society.
The other day was 6th July, when London won the opportunity to host the 2012 Olympics.
The presentation which the London Olympic Team gave in Singapore was an astonishing, vibrant tour de force. It represented London as an open, diverse and modern city, which valued equality of opportunity and love of life, including sport, as essential components of a free society.
I am going to use 2012 as a reference point. That seems to be a comparison of some resonance.
Tonight - unbeknown to me until a couple of days ago - the BBC is broadcasting a major and moving documentary about the bombs of 7th July.
It begins with a clip of the 2012 announcement.
London won. We will host the Olympics. What could and will Britain and its police be like in seven years time?
The Metropolitan Police Service - usually called the Met - was involved in the bid.
We told the evaluating panel that we were good at handling huge crowds, we understood the nature of terrorism, we were an unarmed service in a free city and we could secure the 2012 Games.
7th July asked - and continues to ask - questions of those assertions.
So, when I ask 'what kind of police service do we want?', I have an assumption: we want a 6th July police service, not a 7th July police service.
However, we can't have that to which 6th July aspired without understanding 7th July.
Moreover - and I am constrained in what I can say about this - I believe that we can't now have either 7th July or 6th July without risks like that of 22nd July, when officers of my service shot dead an innocent man.
That deeply regrettable death makes even louder the question, 'what kind of police service do we want?'
And here I come to the second question, which is 'who is to decide?' and I return to my story about running back that far.
Despite my whole professional lifetime in policing, I believe it should be you, not me, who decides what kind of police we want. I'll return to the third question - about how - later on.
We have been a service which has always been separate and silent, which successive governments - until recently - and all of you, your parents and your grandparents, have broadly left alone to get on with the job that you have given it.
For health, there is a King's Fund and endless university departments for research, a National Institute of Clinical Excellence, an Agenda for Change.
For education, there have been impassioned debates since Shirley Williams led comprehensivisation, since Kenneth Baker proposed grant-maintained schools, since Tony Blair said 'education, education, education' - and he's saying it again now, isn't he?
Transport and the environment are subject of think tanks and policy wonks.
Even the BBC - blessed auntie - is not immune: but not policing.
Little policy discussion, but lots of interest.
Lots of people in this country are actually undertaking a permanent NVQ on policing - it's called The Bill - and the British have loved detective stories since Sherlock Holmes - and newspapers and news programmes would be empty without us - but informed commentary on policing is piecemeal.
We are told the police ought to do this particular thing or are bad at doing that: people praised us, for instance, on 7th July and then for catching the failed bombers so quickly: we were savaged after the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and over Soham and Stephen Lawrence.
But there is little dispassionate, thought through, public examination of just what it is we are here to do in the 21st century - to fight crime or to fight its causes, to help build stronger communities or to undertake zero tolerance, nor of how these things should be done or what priority each should have or what we should stop doing.
The silence can no longer continue. The citizens of Britain now have to articulate what kind of police service they want.
For this reason: after atrocities in New York, Madrid and London, after Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Delhi and Jordan, fears for personal and communal safety are inextricably part of contemporary life.
Moreover, these events coincide with another development, the increasing sense that anti-social behaviour, as the opposite face of a civil society, is also threatening our ability to lead free lives.
Three trends have coincided.
First, the agencies of community cohesion, the churches, the trade unions, the housing associations, the voluntary clubs have declined in influence.
Secondly, the agents of social enforcement, such as park keepers, caretakers and bus conductors, have disappeared.
The third was the laudable but under-funded and imperfectly implemented decision to close so many long-stay psychiatric institutions.
This has left many people looking - in the absence of anyone else - to the police service for answers to the degradation of communal life - for answers to the neighbours from hell, the smashed bus stop, the lift shaft littered with needles and condoms, the open drugs market, the angry, the aggressive and the obviously disturbed.
And it is clear that how the police deal with these often very local issues will determine whether we are considered to be successful in everything we do, local or not.
2005 is a year of anniversaries. 200 years on from Trafalgar, 400 from the Gunpowder Plot and, of course, 60 years from the end of the Second World War.
However, that means that 2005 is also 60 years after the landslide election of the new post-war government, dedicated to the eradication of the five giants identified a few years earlier by the great social economist, William Beveridge: Want, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor and Disease: the welfare state given birth.
I am speaking in the church of St Leonard - appropriately patron saint of the mentally ill and of prisoners - in Shoreditch, in London's East End.
Beveridge once lived near here, where he would have seen all the ills he listed.
Sixty years on, however, I believe he would have described a sixth giant, arising to join the remnants of his other five: the giant of personal insecurity, based on fear of anti-social behaviour, of crime and of terrorism, so that policing becomes central to our understanding of citizenship.
It is time to decide what kind of police service we want.
The police have long worked on the assumption that the service you want is local, visible, accessible, familiar, accountable, friendly. You want us largely unarmed and that jewel remains.
The British Isles retain the only largely unarmed police services in the world except for New Zealand - and with all respect to Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, they are not the East End of London, not here in Hackney, not Haringey or Tower Hamlets, not the pressured environments of Lambeth, Southwark, St Paul's, Handsworth or Moss Side.
Yet 90 per cent of the Met, for instance, remains unarmed - I want to keep it that way. I imagine you do too but you should not underestimate the raw courage which that represents.
At the same time, you want us to deal with terror, with murder, with kidnap, with rape. You want us to be many things.
You want us to be the agent of last resort but the first response to emergency and disaster.
You want these things but I am not sure you know who we are.
The founder of the Met was the then Home Secretary, later Prime Minster, Sir Robert Peel.
Among the many directions he gave to the new service was that it was not to be an occupation for gentlemen.
That has had the long-term effect of separating us from the established currents of British life, so that those who join the police are a bit of a puzzle to others.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by people that they had thought of joining the police but hadn't had the courage to do so.
What they actually mean, by and large, is that they thought that, interesting as it was, they were of too superior a class or educational background.
Even the producer of this programme, Daniel Brittain, in an unguarded moment, said he had thought about proposing to the BBC Chairman that I should give this lecture partially because he himself wanted to know 'why someone like you would want to be a police officer?' I will answer that question in a moment.
For a long time, the police service was consequently the preserve of the striving lower-middle class, predominantly white, predominantly male.
There are now many more women - a third of our current intake - but class remains an issue.
This now combines with another context, which is that the newer communities of Britain, whether African, Jewish, Muslim, eastern European, Chinese, Asian, African-Caribbean, are not joining in proportion to representative numbers either.
Reasons for this include issues about race and policing or the experience of policing in countries of origin but much remains about class and parental aspirations.
It can't be about pay: on joining, police officers are paid more than young teachers, junior doctors or junior lawyers.
But the effect is that many of you do not know who we are.
It can't work this way any longer. I need your brothers and your sisters, your mothers, your fathers, your sons, your daughters, from every race and creed, to be in the police.
One of every five officers joining the Met is now from a minority community - but to transform ourselves to match London's diversity that needs to double.
Making the Met look like London is not cosmetic: understanding different cultures is a straightforward business requirement if we are to succeed in policing London, now or in 2012.
Equally importantly, this policing business is serious: we need the best brains and the most balanced characters to undertake the breadth of the task, to steer through the moral questions, to face the challenges of modern policing.
Additionally, the Met is bigger than the Royal Navy; we are the largest single employer in London; in another world, we would be a FTSE 100 company. We are a similar size to the BBC.
So those are the reasons, Daniel, why I joined and have stayed; the opportunity to serve others, the endless fascination of people, the extraordinary variety of events and the intellectual, moral and leadership challenges of policing.
So, without turning this lecture into a recruitment drive, from every community, we need the best you can give us.
Only through the widest possible recruitment will you all begin to know who we are and all be able to create the police service you want.
The East End is part both of the heartbeat of London and of the history of the Met, for good and ill.
The last victim of Jack the Ripper was brought to this church for post-mortem and funeral. The Kray's famous haunt - the Blind Beggar Pub - is just up the road.
Uncannily, on 21st July, the failed bomb attack on the London bus happened right outside this church.
The East End has been the funnel through which generations of immigration - and poverty - have challenged and enriched London - Huguenots, Russians, Jamaicans, Bangladeshis - our own huddled masses to whom we were not necessarily welcoming and for whom the police have often been the first point of contact with the cold realism of the state.
Rather oddly, it was at six pm on a Tuesday evening - on 29th September, 1829 - that Sir Robert Peel's new police walked out onto the streets of London, most famously from their headquarters in a small Whitehall street named Scotland Yard but also here into the lanes of Shoreditch.
What Peel created that evening changed the relationship between the citizen and the state in Britain.
For 40 years, Parliament had debated the introduction of a professional police force. MPs were very concerned to avoid a 'continental', military model of policing, giving too much power to the government.
What they produced has stood the test of time: citizens in uniform: who, as Peel said, 'are only members of the public that are paid to give full-time attention to the duties which are incumbent on every citizen'.
'The primary objects of an efficient police,' wrote Sir Richard Mayne, one of the twin Commissioners appointed by Peel, were to be 'the prevention of crime and the preservation of public tranquillity'.
However worthy those ideals, these were not a police for the whole people but a police to protect the better off from what were described by Victorian commentators as 'the dangerous classes', a lot of whom would have lived right around here.
Working class life remained largely unaffected by the new police and pretty nasty.
There were a number of Royal Commissions on the Police, principally concerned with structure, although the last one, in 1960, arose from a series of minor scandals.
Nevertheless, one of the key attributes of policing between 1829 and the 1960s was silence. Its purpose, workforce and methods were not scrutinised. It was just left generally alone.
And here I can adduce some particularly relevant evidence.
The only other Dimbleby Lecture by a Metropolitan Police Commissioner was given by Sir Robert Mark, in 1973.
After having been introduced by David Dimbleby as the most senior and undoubtedly most outspoken police officer of his generation - no parallels there then - Robert Mark began like this:
'Some of you may think it rather odd that a policeman should be chosen to give a lecture in memory of a television broadcaster, no jobs could be further apart. Richard Dimbleby excelled at giving facts and opinions to the public. Whatever achievements policemen can claim, the ability to communicate is certainly not one of them. We share with another more famous service a tradition of silence.'
Then, in a masterpiece of understatement, my predecessor began his next paragraph, 'But I don't think that our silence has been altogether a good thing'.
Robert Mark was a great reforming Commissioner. It was a brilliant speech.
However, despite the fact that much of it was about the police - he made clear, for instance, the scale of corruption he was trying to eradicate - I am told he allegedly once remarked that the basic test of a police force was that it should arrest more criminals than it employed and the Met was failing that test - the speech produced headlines only for his attack on criminal lawyers.
The waters closed. The silence continued.
The years that followed have been turbulent.
The emergence of a substantial black and minority population in London proved a massive challenge for the Met.
The relationship of the police with the government and the populace was thrown into sharp relief by protest movements, by the miners' strike and by the long years of combating Irish Republican terrorism.
Old methods of detection, in extremis based on hunch, prejudice and judicial complicity in downright lying, failed. Miscarriages of justice stained the reputation of the service.
As society changed, the police service found itself as reluctant moral guardian, not sure whether to be soft cop or hard cop in relation to pornography, drugs and drink driving, the last two of which brought the police firmly into conflict with a wider public and, indeed, with the chattering classes.
The word 'bobbies' was disappearing: the fuzz, the filth, the cops, the pigs were more fashionable.
The police service struggled. It was generally made up of well intentioned and dedicated men and some women.
Nevertheless, between the 1960s and the 1980s, it increasingly fell behind the curve of modern Britain.
In this, it got little help from government or from the public about what kind of police service it should be. So it started to adapt itself.
It invested significantly by bringing in those having - or by offering existing officers - university education; it trained, both in terms of management and operations, a new cadre of leaders who emerged determined on professional competence and absolute integrity.
They organised themselves on business lines with an increasing reliance on technology.
And they did all this without much consultation, so that I have an increasing concern that the police have a different view of themselves than the one - or ones - which others hold.
The service sees great challenges and, broadly without discussion, adapts itself to meet them.
To take but two examples, the police service genuinely considers itself as an agency of social cohesion, particularly in the inner cities, as, after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, an agency of healing in communities fractured by race and class and income; in the face of the threat of organised criminality, on the other hand, it increasingly arms itself.
Hence the outrage of columnists and commentators, variously alleging political correctness and robo cop.
What we actually have is a number of different and partisan views of the police service, shouting at each other.
In 1993, the white paper on police reform, issued by the then Conservative government, stated, in entirely unequivocal terms, that 'the main job of the police is to catch criminals'.
In contrast, the overarching purpose of the police service, issued by the incoming Labour government in 1997, was: 'to build a safe, just and tolerant society, in which the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families and communities are properly balanced, and the protection and security of the public are maintained'.
Catching criminals is central to policing and we are pretty good at it and getting better: for instance, the detection rate for murder in London last year was 94%.
This year in London, we have detected over 40,000 more crimes than we did last year, while, according to the British Crime Survey, the service has reduced crime nationally, year on year, for the past ten years.
However, there is no agreement whether we are doing well or badly because an extraordinarily wide divergence of view remains as to what the police are for.
We now have to make some choices. Society is demanding answers and actions to deal with feral children, hoodies and yobs: to the curse of drugs, to date rape and gun crime: to the smuggling of women for sexual slavery: to street robbery: to truancy, graffiti and drunken aggressiveness: to paedophilia, identity theft, organised crime and murder.
At the same time, those choices must reflect what kind of police service is needed after July. Terror has changed its methods - or, more accurately, brought some existing methods to Britain for the first time.
And, while 6th July represents an aspiration, 7th July represents a fact.
Britain remains a target of the highest possible priority to al-Qaeda and its affiliates; we are in a new reality.
The sky is dark.
The terrorists seek mass casualties and are entirely indiscriminate: every community is at risk, which is the starkest of reasons why we need representatives of every community in our ranks.
Because as the Chief Rabbi said after 7th July, 'there may be hundreds of languages spoken in London but there is one universal language, the language of tears'.
The police will need authority, tactics and equipment to deal with attacks similar to those of July and far, far worse: most important of all, we will need to draw that authority from a public which understands us and the dilemmas we face.
In effect, the police face a widening mission. If I can emphasise that with a single statement, it is that the Met deploys officers every day in Barking and in Kensington, tasked specifically to prevent truancy and graffiti, but also usually has officers on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul.
Properly to respond to all of that mission, to move to neighbourhood policing while responding to terror without losing current mainstream services, the police will have to alter the way we work, change the make up of our workforce and seek out new partnerships with the public, together with new methods of democratic accountability.
But who do we do that with? Because things are changing fast and controversially.
Policing is becoming not only central to our understanding of citizenship, it is becoming a contestable political issue as never before.
Even before the parliamentary clashes of last week, this government has been very interested in the police, with one green and two white papers, together with no less than eight parliamentary bills centred on policing since 2002.
Opposition parties have produced manifesto suggestions for more localism and different accountabilities.
Police authorities have joined in with target regimes and now there is talk of structure.
But nowhere is there a thorough going, objective debate about policing as a whole . as a consequence, too many of the big-picture ideas are coming from the police rather than from others.
It is senior police leaders who are leading the service back to neighbourhood policing (admittedly, we led it away in the first place); it is the police who are constructing a new, intellectually challenging view of the criminal justice system by, for instance, suggesting that better qualified and better paid beat officers should have time-limited, summary powers to impose driving disqualifications or anti-social behaviour orders.
It is senior police leaders who are openly discussing a change to the make up of the workforce, with more community support officers and a different relationship between police and the support staff that help them.
This last point is important. Peel created civilians in uniform but, because of continuing political obsession with police officer numbers, the contribution of non-police officers within the police service is both misunderstood and curtailed.
In July, London's police services could not have coped without the forensic experts, photographers, drivers, radio engineers, the men and women who built the mortuary, the telephonists, cooks and analysts.
These are all crime fighters: yet political parties insist on measuring policing by officer numbers.
Hospitals are not judged solely by the number of beds nor education by the number of teachers: the number of police officers alone should not be the currency of effective policing.
The police are contemplating bringing people into the service at different ranks; we are also examining what constables no longer need to do - because others could - and what they should be able to do but regulation prevents.
We are thus setting out in directions which could change what policing looks like and how it is experienced.
There is good here: this, unusually, is a public service that is itself restlessly seeking reform but we need you to be involved so that policing becomes citizen shaped rather than producer shaped.
On a related but specific point, the dreadful death of Mr de Menezes is a watershed.
Until now, the police have discussed the strategy and tactics for using lethal force behind closed doors, open only to police authority members, Home Office officials, ministers and some specialist advisors.
That has to change. An open debate is now required, not just about how the police deal with suicide bombers, but about how, in a liberal democracy, a largely unarmed service uses lethal force in any and all circumstances.
Where are the discussions, where is, outside the walls of police headquarters and among a handful of journalists, even the wish to know about the firearms and ammunition we use, about how the police deal with kidnaps in action, with explosive entry into the strongholds of armed criminals, with real time threats to life from criminal gangs?
Doctors are surrounded by people with views on the medical ethics of the sustaining of life at its outset and at its end; where is the similar informed, compassionate, reasonable debate about the sudden and absolute end of life at the hands of the police?
So the questions are: What kind of police service do we want, who should decide that and how?
We need a widespread, fundamental debate. I will begin with some propositions.
First, we want a single police service, not a multiplicity of them. By, that I do not necessarily mean a single national police force but one holistic service to cover the whole of the mission.
What we should seek to avoid, at all costs, is a separation of local, neighbourhood policing from either serious criminal investigation or counter terrorist investigation.
Every lesson of every police inquiry is that, not only the issues that give rise to anti-social behaviour, but also those that give rise to criminal activity and to terrorism begin at the most local level.
I will give you two direct examples. The first is the dreadful death of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay. The inquiry into that stretched from overcrowded housing in Liverpool to the role of triad gangs in China: a single investigation.
The second follows the failed bombings of 21st July. A local authority worker identified the flat which three men shown on the CCTV images had frequented: this was the bomb factory.
However, he also mentioned that he had found dozens of empty peroxide bottles in the wastebins. Had we had one of our neighbourhood policing teams in place then he probably would have told us about what he had found. Peroxide is the basis of the bombs.
Thus national security depends on neighbourhood security. It will not be a Special Branch officer at Scotland Yard who first confronts a terrorist but a local cop or a local community support officer.
It is not the police and the intelligence agencies who will defeat crime and terror and anti-social behaviour; it is communities.
We do not want one kind of police force being nice to people and another one arriving in darkened vans wearing the balaclavas. Whoever is responsible for the one has to be responsible for the other.
Secondly, if you agree that you - rather than me - need to decide what kind of policing we want, then you have to engage in making that happen.
We need a new structure and a new energy for public connection with policing at four levels. Level one is about dynamic engagement.
By 2008, in London nearly for certain and, by inference, across the rest of the country, neighbourhood police teams will be in place everywhere.
These small teams will have a mandate to engage with local communities to help solve long running problems of anti-social behaviour; they will not leave those areas for other duties and will be available to prioritise local action alongside local people.
Beyond neighbourhoods, policing then needs what I would describe as answerability, at the level of the services centred in large towns or one of the 32 London boroughs.
This is broadly missing. It is mixed up with local authority structures and with police authorities, whose role is almost entirely unknown to the public.
They share the same frustrated silence as the service itself, with the really hard work of the new Metropolitan Police Authority, for instance, to engage with Londoners being largely ignored by commentators.
Their role at this municipal level and at the next and unhelpfully competing level of accountability - that of the individual police force - currently 43 but likely to reduce - needs strengthening, democratising and making more transparent.
So, engagement, answerability and accountability at different levels: but most important of all, we need a national debate about policing as a whole.
I passionately believe that we need a unified police service, engaged with and accountable to the community and being shaped by the needs of citizens, capable of dealing with every requirement from truancy to terror, from graffiti to gunmen.
The choice actually must be that there are no more 'ors', only 'ands': we must do it all.
However, the way we currently handle all of this expanding mission is very expensive. It will get more expensive as the years go on.
Will you spend that money?
If not, can we do it in some other ways, using - as police chiefs are currently suggesting - a different mix of volunteers and different sorts of professionals?
How can we best engage with private security and with local authorities?
Why do we mix up the presentation of the cost of policing with council tax?
How do we balance the demands of serious criminal investigation with the need for presence and reassurance in public space?
Within that national debate, we need particularly to examine the use of force inside a liberal democracy and the balance between protection against terror with long held civil liberties.
Other police chiefs and I have recently made clear our view that the maximum period for detention before charge needed to be raised significantly for those suspected of terrorism.
Parliament has decided and their will is sovereign. Police intervention in the discussion and, right or wrong, subsequent parliamentary disquiet about that may both be symptomatic of the absence of a forum for public debate and of the increased political significance of policing.
In 2012, we will want Britain to be an open, diverse society, with equality of opportunity and freedom of movement for all, with the Olympics demonstrating and showcasing that Britain.
Events in Paris - and in the Lozells area of Birmingham - show how fragile that vision might be and how incredibly important policing is to its realisation.
The connection between the environment that local policing can engender and the way in which the Olympics will be policed is absolutely clear.
The Olympics will not take place in a vacuum: they will be policed in a manner reflective of a wider Britain.
Who will decide? The police, the government, the media or you?
This is not a time for a Royal Commission but for open thought.
It is a time for politicians and commentators of every stripe and opinion actively to consider how citizens can be involved in a debate about what kind of police service we want.
We need to embed the citizen in everything we do: we could make a small start, for instance, by insisting that the shortly to be created National Policing Improvement Agency should have a permanent and powerful citizens panel.
In 1964, Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the United States, said that 'every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves; what is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on'.
I don't know how we should insist on it but I know that we should.
I don't know whether we should have a King's Fund for the police or university schools of policing or a big tent conversation but a new urgency is upon us.
I don't know the answers but I do know that policing is important. It is as important as health and education, as transport, the environment and the military.
Clemenceau described war as being 'too important to leave to the Generals'.
Equally, policing is too important to leave to police chiefs - or to party politics alone.
We need - you need - to move from policing by consent, which is the bedrock of our policing settlement but which is passive, to policing by direct collaboration, which is active.
The police service needs public engagement and debate to help it fit the multi-cultural, open society to which the London Olympics aspire, a Britain in which I want to live and in which I want my children to live.
That Britain cannot succeed without a police service to match.
You need to decide what kind of police service we want.
As the Bobbies named after him prove, Robert Peel created policing in Britain and in the free world.
I will leave you with perhaps his most important yet enigmatic statement, 'the police are the public and the public are the police'.
You and we are one.
A new giant has arisen. You all now - we all now - need to make some decisions. Thank you very much.