(Photo: Ted Ideas)
By Ella Stevens – Regular Contributor
The police have been bought on to the agendas of all political parties in Britain after the events of Sarah Everard’s murder, the new policing bill and the policing of anti-racist movements. Both the Conservatives and Labour have suggested that more funding needs to be given to the police to curtail rising crime levels but is this really the solution the public is looking for? Can more police on the streets really benefit women and minority groups when they are already seen as untrustworthy?
The rallying cry for ‘defund the police’ began in the US as an anti-racist movement to try and defund a system that did not deserve public money. The idea is not to completely dismantle law enforcement but to put investments into services that can better aid communities and prevent crime from its roots. Although the American and British police systems do vary drastically, there remains a similarity in the fact that they both have institutionalised racism at their core. Who is described as criminal and who is likely to be stopped and searched is based on race, gender and social class. This therefore means that an increase in police budgets will affect some people’s lives in much worse ways than it will others. It is okay as a white man (as Keir Starmer did) to stand up and call defunding the police ‘nonsense’ but it must be considered a real opportunity for change. Britain has the second largest policing budget per capita in Europe yet both the government and opposition are claiming the police need more. Defunding the police would mean rerouting this expenditure to social policies such as youth centres, education, and safe spaces that are likely to prevent people from experiencing crime and educating them at a younger age in an attempt to stop crime.
One of the major new aspects of the new policing bill is that it will give police greater restrictions over protests. This has been decided at a time when young people’s anger and distress at the government and polices choice to deal with anti-racism, sexual violence and environmental issues are at the forefront of the political agenda. The choice to increase power to the police through new legislation and funding angered many as they joined the #KILLTHEBILL protests. The case of Sarah Everard played an important role in understanding how law enforcement is not always the correct choice. Many attended the Reclaim These Streets vigil but it was banned by the police. This led to the arrest of 4 women who had been trying to express their oppression at a vigil for a women raped and murdered by a police officer. The irony that police were being used to suppress women at a vigil that would not be occurring if it was not for a police officer’s violent attack did not go unnoticed by the public. This increase of distrust and resentment toward the police was similar to during the Black Lives Matter protests. These recent cases are just a few in a long number of public issues with the police, tracing back decades. It makes it difficult for the public to trust police when officers are being forced to police the democratic right to protest in such away. The police are supposedly the people that you can go to but is this really possible if they act as a barrier to political opposition? Political policing has always been seen as the dangerous side to policing. Under Margaret Thatcher’s government concern about police behaviour in terms of corruption, violence and racism became louder. Clashes with the police became common practise and the idolised ‘bobby’ became the state lackey. The continuation of more power to the police could carry on this trend.
Instead of giving funds to the police to try and prevent sexual and domestic violence, this money could be invested in women’s centres, trauma services and education. This would provide safety for those likely to be affected by such crimes and provide them with a place to stay rather than placing emphasis on failed prosecutions. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men aged 16-59 experience rape or sexual assault by penetration each year in England and Wales but only around 15% of those who experience sexual assault report this to the police. The fact that so little report their assault implies the level of mistrust in the police and their handling of such issues. Due to austerity, 17% of specialist gender-based violence refuges in England have closed since 2010. With a third of referrals to refuges turned away. Whilst the government boosts spending on the police other services continually suffer when they are also needed just as much. The fact that these services are seen as disposable presents a huge problem within society that cannot be fixed by having more police on the streets. There must be a balance of services where more time and funds are put into forms of social care that are just as important (if not more so) than the police. These kinds of services can prevent violence before it occurs and also provide care for those that have already experienced it. Although policing of sexual violence is a necessary part of the process more emphasis needs to be put on services that are there to aid those that have already suffered such violence and shelters that people can go to escape it.
The police cannot provide all the answers and should not be expected to do so. ‘Defund the police’ is not a cry to abolish the police completely, but to use some of its funds to boost social care and education, that are just as necessary to prevent crime as the police themselves. The right social care can prevent pathways into crime or people from being in dangerous situations by giving them other opportunities. Both mainstream political parties are focused on the idea of being ‘tough on crime’ when the problems run far deeper than criminal behaviour. The police can be a useful tool but they should not be the main focus, especially, when some of the main areas of political dispute happening at the moment are about racism and violence against women.
Emsley, C. ‘Local Bobby or State Lackey?’ The English police : a political and social history, (Longman: London, 1996), 171-190