Trying to turn a 19th Century property-protection force, organised like the army, into a 21st Century organisation, modelled on a corporation, is a mug’s game.
I’ll keep this short. The Metropolitan Police are in trouble again. A new report calls for reform and accountability. For managament to credibly identify and remove bad apples and institute new, up-to-date norms in the force.
But the Met cannot be reformed in this way. It cannot be conformed to the contemporary meritocratic model of a major organisation, it cannot be governed via the HR department and by change management consultants. You cannot translate a rigid hierarchy of rank (with uniforms and real weapons) into a fluid, open, socially-liberal corporate structure. Sergeants and Inspectors and Commissioners with pips on their shoulders and braid on their hats cannot become modern, first-name managers.
There is no inclusive model for a police force. Likewise there’s no ‘lean-in’ remedy for the exclusion and marginalisation – the misogyny, racism and straightforward numbing brutality – of conventional policing. Station coppers, working class men and women organised into increasingly militarised groups, equipped like Robocop, besieged by a disapproving and disdainful middle-class media and by increasingly alien management orthodoxies imported from Californian corporations, cannot be ‘re-educated’ or transformed to our liking.
The awful, depressing, repetitive, grinding and howling of the machinery as well-meaning leaders try to adapt policing to the practices of a contemporary capitalist society, to the norms of the Professional Managerial Class, to the fantasies of the social and media elite, is harrowing.
And the result, a kind of Frankenstein force that tries pointlessly to blend ‘enlightened’ liberal management practices with the essentially Victorian structures of a police force whose ingrained functions are protecting property, disciplining the urban poor and administering the bureaucracies of control, is a ghastly, mutant instrument that cannot but fail.
What we ought to do is give up trying to squash the police into our ‘woke’ (sorry) social model, stop trying to create a hybrid nurture-discipline machine that somehow mercilessly grinds the faces of crims and respects diversity and wellbeing and mental health week.
We should civilianise the police force. Dismantle the rank-based structure, dissolve the out-of-date geographic organisation and the weak, antagonistic links with local government, dump the chain of command and move ownership and control of the police into our communities, into our town halls and community centres.
To democratise policing, put communities in direct control – not at arms-length via pointless, supine police commissioners but via routine and fine-grained democratic control. Popular sovereignty and community autonomy. Policing policies designed by those policed. Policing the domain of the demos, not of the rulers; management and accountability local and broad-based. We’re not defunding the police (a ridiculous, pretentious idea), we’re democratising the police.
And if this sounds a bit like a people’s militia, or a soviet or a neighbourhood committee. Sure, that’s what it is. It’s democratically accountable, community-owned policing. It’s a ridiculous, utopian demand, of course. But if there’s ever been a moment when something like this could be tried, when an experimental disbandment of the Plod of old might be on the cards, when a readiness of ordinary people and elites to accept something radical might exist, it’s probably now, isn’t it?