Bishop of Ripon and Leeds calls for positive vision for role of police in serving the common good

“The College of Policing would do well to get on to the front foot in its ethical work so that our police see it as their duty not simply to avoid wrongdoing but to pursue values that will make them still more a force for the common good” – Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, 28/11/13

On 28th November 2013, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, took part in Lord Paddick’s take-note debate on public trust in the police, its role in effective policing, and the system for investigating complaints into police conduct. In his speech, the Bishop spoke of the importance of trust in fostering positive relationships between police and communities, and welcomed the College of Policing’s draft code of ethics, whilst calling for it to be bolder in its promotion of a positive role for the police in promoting the common good.

R_LThe Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, both for leading this debate and for his powerful and serious introduction to it. I also look forward to the first of many contributions to the work of this House from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

I am also grateful to our police forces for their major role in establishing a courteous and sensitive society. Like many of my colleagues, I have, for example, accompanied police when they have been sharing news of a tragedy with relatives. I have been consistently impressed by the careful way that they have gone about their task. It is professionalism of the highest order. That reputation does indeed depend on the confidence of the public. I was a vicar in Sheffield at the time of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, and I spent much of the following week taking relatives of the Liverpool fans who had died onto the Hillsborough pitch, working with police officers who were invariably courteous, sensitive and supportive. It is tragic that so much good work has been lost to our collective memory by the subsequent lack of confidence in senior police behaviour at that time.

Similarly, I was the vicar of the south Yorkshire mining community of Wath-upon-Dearne at the time of the 1984 miners’ strike, when relationships between police and the community were at their most fraught. Reputation then was upheld—significantly—only by the story that the police officers guilty of taunting the community were not the local officers whom we knew, but officers imported from Sussex and other places south of the Trent. I still do not know whether that was true, but it was a very convenient story for all sides in that tense situation. Confidence becomes fragile so quickly. In many of our communities, however, trust is still based on personal knowledge of individual police officers. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, for stressing the importance of keeping policing local, including the discussion and inquiries into offences.

In this context, I will not so much talk about the IPCC and its work as welcome warmly the draft code of ethics for the police forces of England and Wales that is currently published for consultation by the College of Policing. It is good to have specific standards of professional behaviour delineated there, for the police to build that confidence based on community relationships. These standards are filled with detail of how that relationship is to be developed, and I welcome the robustness of the sections on honesty and integrity, authority, respect and courtesy, and equality and diversity. Those are at the root of the proper use of authority by a citizen police force that is a part of our society and not set apart from it in order to police it. Police forces are given authority by the public and trusted to use it honestly, and to be aware of the dangers that are inherent in all authority and that come to the surface so easily.

I have two general points about the code on which I would be grateful for comments from the Minister. First, I regret what seems in the code and in our discussions about the IPCC to be a note of persistent negativity. The code seems more concerned with preventing bad policing than promoting the good. Not for one moment do I deny that we need to stop bad policing, and that where it happens we need to make due inquiries about it; but “thou shalt not” goes only so far in creating an effective culture for the way in which we work together.

It would be good to see the code developed so that it points confidently to the part that policing can and I believe does play in building a good society, creating and upholding the Queen’s peace, and positively establishing a foundation of confidence on which our communities will flourish. I have seen good policing doing just that, in personal contacts with those in need, in good relationships with local schools, and in the way in which, where necessary, arrests are carried out. The negativity of the code is understandable because it grew out of a disciplinary code, but positive energy for the common good is even more crucial than the elimination of bad practice.

I would also value a comment from the Minister on those points where the code seems to overemphasise the role of public opinion. In this, I support some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. A key stated criterion in the code is,

“whether their behaviour … is likely to reflect well on themselves and on policing”.

The unintended logic of that could be that an action is good or bad only if someone is watching or if somebody finds out about it. That cannot be the only—or an appropriate—moral imperative. Honesty and integrity exist or do not exist whether or not anyone knows about them. If the culture of respect to which the noble Lord, Lord Young, referred is to be developed among our police, the College of Policing would do well to get on to the front foot in its ethical work so that our police see it as their duty not simply to avoid wrongdoing but to pursue values that will make them still more a force for the common good.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): …It is always interesting to listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. He said that it focused too much on the negative. The college is about good practice, too. Perhaps I may tease the right reverend Prelate and say that those Ten Commandments include a few negative injunctions as well as the positive imperatives. So there is a good precedent for it…


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