Stalwart Suffolk police officer fears ‘draconian’ crime bill will change policing ‘for the worse’

Sgt Mick Richardson

Sgt Mick Richardson - Credit: Archant

As the Policing and Crime Bill 2015-16 passes its second reading in Parliament, Suffolk Police Federation secretary Mick Richardson gives a dire warning for the future of policing in England and Wales.

He describes the bill as draconian and fears it would be dangerous if it is enshrined in law. Here he has his say:

Suffolk Police Federation secretary Mick Richardson

In more than 30 years as a police officer in Suffolk, I have seen and lived through too many changes to the laws of the land that govern ‘policing’ than I care to remember.

Looking back, the majority were to the good.

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Most of the ‘good’ law was introduced to address issues borne of bad experiences and to ensure people the police come into contact with for all the wrong reasons are treated fairly as they travel through the criminal justice system and, in theory, to ensure those that should end up in court, do so.

Some changes were purely for political purposes. For instance, back in the late 1980s, the law that defined assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) was dumbed down to make most elements of ABH nothing more than common assault, meaning overnight the numbers of assaults ending up in court dropped dramatically.

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This allowed the Government of that day to claim that crime was falling. These things happen.

As far as the general public are concerned, most changes to the way laws are adjusted or come into being that control the work of the police go unnoticed, simply because the majority of our communities are law-abiding and are unlikely to be affected.

Not so, in my opinion, with the Police and Crime Bill 2015. This Bill is now in its second reading in the House of Commons.

I believe this specific Bill has all the elements required to physically change the face of the British model of policing for the worse.

It’s not a political trick to reduce crime stats. It’s political ideology dressed up as ‘progress’ and you need to know about it.

It’s not all bad.

There are some well-meaning elements that give additional protection to people with mental health issues and further protect 17-year-olds in custody.

The worrying bits, though, mean the police and crime commissioner (PCC) can end up taking over the fire and ambulance services.

Not a real concern you may think, but bear in mind that the PCC has to be elected and may very well have zero knowledge of any of the emergency services, let alone policing, and have nothing more to offer than platitudes at election time, never mind any experience in running an emergency service.

Experience tells us a PCC, no matter where, is likely to be a politician not a professional from any one of the three services. So we are now more likely than ever to have a politician running all of our emergency services. Is that good news?

Then the Bill allows the College of Policing to produce regulations.

“So what?” I hear you say. Well, regulations are the bits of legislation that determine how police forces operate. They are, in effect, police officers’ conditions of service. We do not have contracts of employment as we are Crown Servants.

“So what?” I hear you say again. Well, the College is 60% funded by the Home Secretary, currently Theresa May.

It was supposed to be an independent body. Its new power has replaced a collaborative body called the Police Negotiation Board that brought together all those involved in policing to enable a consensus to regulations to be reached. No more. The Home Secretary abolished it.

There’s more. The Home Secretary has empowered chief constables to give every power currently held by police officers, with the exception of arrest and discharge of firearms, to volunteers.

It gets worse. The Home Secretary has given herself, through the college, the power to physically remove every rank in the police service except for constable and chief constable.

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