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Opinion

It’s time to stop defending the police and acknowledge the truth: our policing system is broken

11 Dec 2022 5 minute read
Heddlu / Police officer. Picture by Defence Imigary (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Hanna Andersen

The role of the police is to protect and serve – but protect and serve who, and from what?

These are the questions I find myself asking as I watch the controversy surrounding Gwent Police and Police and Crime Commissioner, Jeff Cuthbert, unfold.

Over the past month, allegations of abuse, racism, misogyny and homophobia from both serving and former officers have surfaced, including evidence of years of abuse from former Gwent Officer, Ricky Jones. Jones’s daughter found messages on his mobile phone including discussions of sexually harassing junior female officers, and the sharing of pornographic images.

All of this is horrifying and shocking, but it is not surprising. Across Wales and England, we have seen story after story of police misconduct, including the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer, and the officers who photographed murdered sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry when they were supposed to be protecting them.

These scandals are likely just the tip of the iceberg, a thought that truly terrifies me. It is abundantly clear that police forces in England and Wales have misogyny and prejudice baked-in to the way they operate and a culture of impunity which ensures officers are protected – or even rewarded – for bad behaviour.

That’s why I have been so disturbed at the unwavering support that has been afforded to Gwent Police by PCC Jeff Cuthbert over the past month.

Defensive

On BBC Radio Wales, Cuthbert appeared defensive and frustrated at women like myself who are pointing out that the misogyny and racism in our police aren’t simply due to a few bad apples.

According to Cuthbert, claims like this are “casting a cloud over all police officers” and that we need a “sense of balance.” He says all of this in the face of overwhelming evidence that we have a systemic, widespread problem in the police, so either he is wilfully missing the point, or he simply doesn’t understand the issue, I’m not sure which is worse.

When police officers – including ones that are devoted to public service – work in an environment that is institutionally dysfunctional, and show up to work every day in a toxic environment that allows misogyny, racism, and homophobia to brew and seep into daily life, what does that mean for the women who are reliant on them to address crimes perpetrated against them because of their gender or race? What does it mean for the women who are on the receiving end of abuse from officers?

Since these messages have been made public, more women have come forward to share their experiences of violence and misogyny at the hands of Gwent Police. This includes former female officers who experienced coercive relationships with a serving officer, and survivors of domestic abuse who were ridiculed and dismissed when reporting their abuse.

Critical

What does this say about their ability to investigate and charge perpetrators of abuse, which is critical given the fact that the Gwent Police area receives the highest levels of domestic abuse reports for any force in England and Wales?

A woman comes forward to report her police officer partner for abusing her or their children every week.

Except she’s reporting a crime back to the very institution that creates the conditions that allow it to flourish in the first place, and so how can she trust an officer will  deal with that complaint about one of their colleagues objectively?

In March 2020 the Centre for Women’s Justice submitted a super complaint to the Police Inspectorate, highlighting systematic failings, where loyalty to colleagues stopped the police from effectively dealing with police perpetrators of abuse.

Gwent Police HQ Vigil (Credit: WEP)

Domestic abuse

And this is at the centre of this storm at Gwent Police: the family of former police officer Ricky Jones whose lives were controlled by his domestic abuse, but who had nowhere to turn because Gwent Police did nothing to protect them.

Instead they were reliant on the press to find the support and action that had been lacking.

The investigations into Gwent Police are being conducted by Wiltshire Police and the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Many have highlighted that this feels like the police marking their own homework, only to be told that this is the only system we have.

I’m sorry, but that is simply not an acceptable answer to me. It’s time for a better system.

Leadership

Whilst some will look to make Chief Constable Pam Kelly a scapegoat, a simple change of leadership will not solve this problem. Of course police leaders must be held to account for failures in their forces, but they are not the only leaders with responsibility.

Now is the time for our political leaders to step up and explicitly acknowledge the institutional misogyny, racism, and homophobia that stop the police from doing their job.

It is time for the Home Secretary to commission an independent, statutory inquiry into misogyny in the police, because we cannot address what we cannot see.

If Jeff Cuthbert really wants to help this family, and build trust with women in the community, then he and his PCC colleagues should voice their support for a statutory inquiry, and write to the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency.

Because the thing that everyone seems to forget is that one bad apple rots the barrel.

Hanna Andersen is the Branch Leader of Women’s Equality Party Wales.


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Pawl
Pawl
1 month ago

Da gweld rhywun yn mynegi hyn!

Richard Jenkins
Richard Jenkins
1 month ago

Be clear, this is not new. The police have not suddenly degenerated into racist, fascist, control freaks! I believe it’s just that social media & modern technology is revealing & exposing their true ‘cosa nostra’ ethic. Where they view the public as the enemy or even prey. I have personal experience of the old boys club, attitude of ‘us & them’ that has pervaded the police ‘service’ for many decades. Until, we get leaders who will endorse and impose a modern paradigm that reinforces the proper purpose of the police, which is to serve & protect the public, we will… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago

They must be accountable to our government and parliament in Cardiff Bay and the local authorities of the communities they operate within.

This will continue while the police are only accountable to those outside Wales.

We pay for the police service through a preset on out council tax.
They must therefore be accountable as our councillors are.

Stop this continued occupation of our country – because this is what it is.

Alan Jones
Alan Jones
1 month ago

Correct me if I’m wrong here but back when the discussion of introducing PCCs was being made the main point being made that resonated with myself & others was that the role of the PCC was to act as a conduit between us, the general public & the local police force. The general public we were informed would be able to contact the office of the PCC to bring forward their concerns as for a lot of people, contacting a chief or a deputy chief constable would perhaps be a little daunting, the PCC would be there to state your… Read more »

Arfon Jones
Arfon Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Jones

As PCC for North Wales for 5 years I agree with you. I saw the role as the PCC representing the public in their dealings with North Wales Police. I wasn’t there to rubber stamp their decisions I was there to challenge and be a critical friend. There is of course a red line to prevent interference with the operational sphere but there is a difference between interference and influence. The PCC sets the policing priorities in the policing plan so provides a direction of travel and leadership but we are not the only ones, you have HMIC, IOPC and… Read more »

Cynan again
Cynan again
1 month ago

Whilst there are certainly a number of good number of honourable police officers who comport themselves professionally and do great work on behalf of those they serve, I am afraid I do not believe this is the majority. Too many heavily tattooed paramilitary caricatures of “manly men” throwing their weight around, dealing with every situation aggressively, abusing their power and unable to control their emotions in stressful situations. So often used to break strikes and suppress freedom of speech at demonstrations. We need to root out the massive amount of bad apples and rebuild the police with clear roles and… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Cynan again
Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago
Reply to  Cynan again

Unfortunately the police force here are not accountable to out Welsh representatives unlike in Scotland.
They are controlled from outside Wales (at the UK home office).
They are therefore an occupation force.
They must be under the democratic accountability of the Welsh parliament and government here.
Until they devolved to Wales they will not to be ‘Heddlu’ (forces for peace and fairness).

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