ACPO: a Gentleman’s Club that has to go
I’m not sure whether ACPO (The Association of Chief Police Officers) is a trade union or a quango or a private gentleman’s club (or a chapter of the Masons for that matter). Which ever, it is getting a bit above itself. On its website it describes itself thus:
In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In equal and active partnership with Government. That’s very telling. And very wrong. Government sets the law and the police force enforces the law. This is no equal partnership: one says, and the other does.
Here’s a point in question. Yesterday the Guardian reported
Tens of thousands of people have been stopped in the street and searched unlawfully under controversial section 44 anti-terrorism powers, the Home Office has revealed…
…The disclosure is another major blow to the police use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, under which anyone can be stopped in a specific area without any need for suspicion that an offence is being committed.
The powers were used to stop 148,798 people last year and have been used repeatedly against peace protesters and photographers.
Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, wrote in a separate Comment is free article:
I have discovered that, under the last government, counter-terrorism stop and search powers were used unlawfully in many cases.
It has been clear for a decade that the last government held our civil liberties cheap. They introduced the powers that have been abused 10 years ago, and then sat back as they were used more and more frequently.
Since becoming home secretary, I have always been clear in my support for the police, but I am also clear that they must operate within the law.
Comment is free article
And so how does ACPO respond? It issues a statement:
In December 2008 the use of Section 44 was reviewed through ACPO and NPIA and practice advice issued to forces, supported by training. No errors have been found in the application process since that date. Each of the forces concerned, and the Home Office will now look at the implications where mistakes were made and ACPO will support that process.
Stop and search can work well when it is carried out with the support and understanding of the community. Used correctly, it can create a hostile environment for terrorists to operate in and help protect the public.
Chief Constable Craig Mackey, ACPO lead for stop and search
It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the change of attitude required, nor admission of existing fault. So here’s what must happen. The Coalition must proceed with its plans for locally elected and publically accountable police chiefs. Accountable to us, ACPO will cease to exist. Chief Police Officers will no longer be able to sit in the ivory tower of their own making. They will no longer be able to claim equal and active partnership with Government. They will be accountable to us and the law. And democracy and the rule of law will be better served for it.