West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster has written to the HMIC’s Chief Inspector regarding impartiality in policing. Here is his letter in full.
Dear HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Cooke,
Re. Inspection of activism and impartiality in the police
I refer to the former Home Secretary’s commissioning letter to HMIC dated 1 September 2023 (‘the letter’) ordering a ‘review into political activism in police.’ I am grateful for the opportunity to respond.
This letter sets out my response to the review, commissioned by the former Home Secretary. It is sent ahead of our planned meeting today, on 30 November 2023 at 12.00pm. I apologise for not having sent my response to you earlier.
The premise of the letter is that: police officers and staff are engaged in ‘political activism’ and this: (1) adversely impacts on their ability to prevent, tackle and reduce crime; and/or (2) adversely impacts on police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.
The premise of the letter is not agreed. Police officers and staff are not engaged in ‘political activism’ that: (1) adversely impacts on their ability to prevent, tackle and reduce crime; and/or (2) adversely impacts on police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.
The commissioning of HMIC to review ‘political activism’ within policing is an inappropriate attempt by the former Home Secretary, to subject policing to political interference. It is divisive and represents a waste of scarce public resources, that could have been more productively invested in preventing, tackling and reducing crime.
The former Home Secretary would have been better advised, to have remained focused on getting the basics right – that keep people safe and secure and that reflect the people’s priorities – rather than allowing herself to lose sight of common sense and to become distracted by her own personal agenda.
It is submitted, that more time will be wasted within policing and HMIC responding to this commission, than is devoted to ‘political activism.’
Policing is a difficult job and one that is made all the more difficult, as a consequence of highly politicised and unwelcome interventions of this sort.
It will contribute absolutely nothing to preventing, tackling and reducing crime or to police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. It will not keep people safe, solve crimes or support victims – indeed, it serves only as an unhelpful distraction from those objectives.
It fails to have regard to the fundamental principle of the operational independence of policing. It is an attempt to politicise the police and undermine their reputation for fairness and independence.
The police understand the importance of them remaining above politics and applying the law even-handedly.
This commission, by the former Home Secretary, is disrespectful towards and undermines hard pressed conscientious, dedicated, diligent and hard-working police officers and staff, who are committed to and understand the principle of policing by consent, the crucial importance of community policing and the need to build trust and confidence, within all of the people and communities they serve.
The commissioning letter is replete with un-particularised, rhetorical and vague phrases, such as: ‘public displays of allegiance’, ‘political causes’, ‘virtue signalling’, ‘related activity’, and ‘identity related causes.’ The commissioning letter refers to the involvement of the police in ‘gender identity politics’, ‘critical race theory’ and ‘climate activism’.
I have no idea what the former Home Secretary has in mind, when she uses these phrases, whether by reference to the involvement of the police, staff networks or otherwise, including what evidential basis there is for her concern that they have influenced policing policy, priorities and practice.
The only comprehensible example of what the commissioning letter refers to as ‘political activism’, is taking the knee. It is suggested this risks losing the support of the public. No data or evidence is provided, either as to the prevalence of taking the knee within policing or to substantiate this view, other than a bare assertion by the former Home Secretary.
In any event, it is not clear who the former Home Secretary has in mind, by use of the term, ‘the public.’ It might be that she has in mind, people who happen to share her views. Plainly, that is not representative of ‘the public’.
The reality is that, contrary to what the former Home Secretary thinks, ‘the public’ are not a homogeneous group and would doubtless have a variety of different views on this subject.
I can agree with the former Home Secretary that, it is essential the police get the basics right on investigating crime, being a visible presence in neighbourhoods and responding effectively to the people they are there to serve.
However, I repeat, the premise of the letter is not agreed. Police officers and staff are not engaged in ‘political activism’ that: (1) adversely impacts on their ability to prevent, tackle and reduce crime; and/or (2) adversely impacts on police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy.
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West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner