It is not often that you get to be in the same room as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (unless you are a politician or other bureaucrat). Not least one where the Commissioner is ready to engage in a debate with you. My meeting with Bernard Hogan-Howe at the London School of Economics’ debate on ‘Total Policing’ on Monday night was no different to this. Despite claiming on numerous occasions to be willing to ‘debate’ the intricacies of his policing policy with the public, he dismally failed to do this throughout the entire session. But what legitimacy is there in the Commissioner debating with the public in any case?
In suggesting that he can debate with us he assumed an antagonistic position where the public must convince him to not carry on with whatever draconian policing tactic he feels is tenable. The Metropolitan Police Service has now officially come under the control of the ‘democratically’ elected London Mayor, yet Hogan-Howe does not see himself in any way democratically accountable to the public, but rather in a position where he is able to debate with them. This of course assumes that democracy as we face it is in any way about accountability, that our police do in fact police by consent and that the invitation to debate is in any way genuine. All of these things we are told to take as fact. I am under no illusion that this is the case.
Unfortunately, the facts were far from what Mr Hogan-Howe was interested in. When asked about why the figures for section 60 (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act) stops and searches showed black people were thirty times more likely to be searched, he admitted that he was unable to provide an explanation. This is not a new issue and it is clearly something he has been questioned on previously, but perhaps the Commissioner saw it as so inconsequential that it didn’t warrant any thought – leaving him unprepared when challenged on it.
Fortunately, a fair number of questions from the audience continued to be challenging from here on in, but often left the Commissioner, a man supposedly at the top of his profession, unable to provide adequate answers beyond vapid filibustering and occasional invitations to agree to disagree. After waiting through several rounds of questioning and having to stand and indicate vigorously to the chair that perhaps he should get the final question, an audience member who identified himself as Liam, was able to ask the Commissioner the following question:
“Could you just explain to me why you’ve undertaken this strange exercise of reifying abstracts such as ‘crime’? For example your ‘War on Crime’ rehtoric that you like to wheel out. Is this an attempt to abstract away from criminality within your own police force, such as the 333 deaths in police custody in the last 13 years? I’m sorry if I got this figure wrong because it has increased since the last time it was last reported.”
In true form, Hogan-Howe was unable to grasp the very concept of the question and seemed positively happy to jump straight in to questioning the figure quoted. Unfortunately, the figure is not a ‘nonsense’ as he put it, but rather the very brutal truth from the IPCC . Not only did he dismiss the figure out of hand however, but he also admitted that he was unable to provide an alternative one.
Again, it is very clear why the Commissioner was unable to provide an alternative figure and explanation but dismissed the questioners. It is because he simply does not care. The policing that he is concerned with is based on a normative view which he hopes to see achieved. The right to protest (which another questioner tackled him on), victims of police brutality and facing up to the realities of crime are not even on the periphery of this man who saw it as some sort of victory that the numbers of people incarcerated had doubled to over 80,000 in what is a massively over crowded prison system. Ironically, for a man who is so ready to interrogate figures, it seems he has taken this one as some sort of invitation to see even more people locked up, without the foresight to consider the inevitable result.
Despite the complaints of those in the audience who were somewhat more favourable towards the Commissioners, football game inspired, ‘Total Policing’ campaign, Hogan-Howe was given ample chance to explain himself and perhaps even engage in the debate that he was so ready to have. Yet through a mixture of both ineptitude and marketing spiel he managed to leave the entire event devoid of any substance.
Having been offered his chance, it is my view that he should only ever be addressed in chants of ‘No Justice, No Peace, Fuck the Police’ as many of the audience did as he exited the stage. The Commissioner indicated he would repeat the futile excercise monthly in different parts of London; don’t waste a journey to spend an evening being patronized by him. You won’t change the Met or even Bernard Hogan-Howe’s opinion by subjecting yourself to this.
A video of the full event can be found here: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1303