There’s a fine line between oversight, in a democracy, and interference in operational police decisions, especially if it benefits the interests of those in power.
I was surprised to hear cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng dismiss fraud as not being real crime. He was speaking after the UK Statistics Authority criticised the Prime Minister for claiming crime has fallen when it’s gone up 14% if the fraud figures, which he deliberately excluded, are counted.
Fraud is serious, it hurts people. Perhaps the Business Secretary has never met anyone who’s had their bank account emptied or an elderly person scammed by some slick conman.
Is the government suggesting the police shouldn’t ‘waste’ time on fraud and that ministers rather than police officers can decide what is or isn’t a crime? That’s the start of a slippery slope.
We can’t have such interference or senior officers afraid to act because they’re expected to second guess their political masters.
I’m curious to know who suggested that ‘party-gate’ should be investigated by sending those involved questionnaires rather than interviewing them in line with standard police procedures.
While reflecting on this, I’ve also been catching up on the news that the Chief Constable of the West Midlands intends to retire after the Commonwealth Games and the Commissioner of the Met Police has resigned. Both have served relatively short periods.
They are very different forces. West Midlands has around 7,000 officers serving a population of about three million while the Met has 34,000 officers but serves a population of more than 14 million and is also responsible for Counter Terrorism, Diplomatic Protection and safeguarding the Houses of Parliament. I’m bound to ask if that’s too big a job for any one person.
Here in the West Midlands, the relationship between politicians and operational policing seems settled.
We can be grateful that Sir Dave Thompson, whom I wish to thank, will be leaving a force which has benefitted from his commonsense leadership and refusal to become engaged in political arguments. The Met faces very different challenges but is the lesson that oversight is good and political interference bad?