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Policing By Consent

I’ve had this conversation with a few people now and the overwhelming consensus is towards agreement.

In the UK, the police operate on the basis of policing by consent. That doesn’t mean that the police can only arrest you if you agree to your arrest – that would be ludicrous. It means that the police force’s effectiveness and even its existence is dictated by the people’s agreement that they represent the rule of law.

Each time someone trots out the old “The police need to be given greater powers to combat crime” and “they should use rubber bullets and water canons” clichés, I’m filled with the desire to bury my face in my palms. While it’s easy to say that the police should deal with the protesters in a much harsher way, the reality of the situation is that the IPCC and intense scrutiny from the public prevent it. And I think it’s a good thing.

The fact that the IPCC exists to monitor and provide checks and balances against the police is a great thing. Yes, it means that sometimes situations like the London Riots don’t get handled as well as they would be in some of the European nations, or the USA, for instance. Over there, they’d have the water cannons out, the police firing tear gas left, right and centre and yes, the riots would be utterly crushed. However, all this comes at the price of vastly reduced police accountability. The police’s power depends more on fear than acceptance.

So while the riots have taken ages to resolve and the police were perceived as being ineffectual and not doing anything about the situation, the people who want them to bring out the water cannons and rubber bullets want to have their cake and eat it. Much like the USA homeland defence and intelligence colossus that has arisen after 9/11, if police are granted powers to bring out the heavy hitters, it won’t be temporary. It’ll be here to stay – and I would rather live in a society where your freedoms include the ability to riot to make yourself heard. The alternative is knowing that the second any number of people gather and the authorities don’t like it, they can call in the heavy riot vehicles and wash any dissent away, literally.