Can we trust the Police?

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of the Metropolitan Police, has called for the public to trust the Police, especially those using firearms.  He is understandably concerned that officers will not volunteer for firearms duties if they are afraid of being prosecuted and/or sued if they shoot anyone.

I can well understand the negative response this appeal is likely to elicit from much of the public.  There have not only been several incidents where police officers have apparently shot innocent people.  More worrying, to me, are all the occasions when the Police lied as they tried to cover up what may have been an honest mistake.  Not only regarding firearms.  Hillsborough comes to mind.

You might expect a writer of crime fiction to defend the Police.  Or you might remember that I have said that my hero is not a copper.  He is an accountant.  Like all amateur detectives, his success depends on the Constabulary’s failure.  If the Police got it right all the time, there would be no role for amateurs.  Allow me some licence!

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So you may well ask, whether I have a poor opinion of the Police in real life, whether in detecting crime or in managing firearms safely.  Let me be honest.  Somebody should be.  The Police Force is a large organisation, whether you think of it in national or local terms.  Like all large organisations, it consists of hundreds or thousands of individuals.

In my experience, dealing with banks, insurance companies, local authorities, the NHS, various charities, the Church of England and other denominations, one thing has been apparent: not all their employees are the same.  Of course, training, procedures and culture affect behaviour, but I have encountered a wide variety of people in all these organisations. Some have been brilliant and a credit to their employers.  Others have managed to do a decent job in difficult circumstances.  Many have been inexperienced and would probably improve in time.  Some were in the wrong job.  A few should have been locked up.  Actually, I can think of some who have been.

Why should the Police be very different?

As a Risk Management Consultant, I have often spoken of the reputational risk.  It is as important to manage that as to manage the underlying physical risks.  My advice is to admit, apologise, learn the lessons and put right any systemic faults.  Where appropriate, compensate.  What is not good practice is to deny the facts or to defend the indefensible.

Sir Bernard should know that trust cannot be commanded.  It has to be earned.  The Police have a long way to go.  But they could start by being more honest.  I want to trust them.  I want to be able to.  Help me, Sir Bernard.

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