It’s happened again. Bringing the news that 157,000 people were stopped and searched at random last year in London down to earth, there’s a documented example of a cop trying to relieve a freelance photographer of his work equipment.
The question has to be posed: are Britain’s police now completely out of control?
What makes it worse is that it’s anti-terrorist legislation, which of course we were all assured would only be used on people ‘suspected of terrorism’. This totally misses the point. Give people too much of a resource – power, money, anything – and their first priority becomes to make as much use of it as possible, not use it in judicious minima. Like any increase in power, it’s been adopted enthusiastically by the people most advantaged by it. This isn’t anything to do with cops; it’s just human nature.
Britain’s police state would like to keep everyone’s DNA on a database. (It already has that of everyone arrested, including those never charged with any offence.) It runs 500,000 CCTV cameras in London alone and records millions of faces a day. It wants to track your car on every journey and already tracks your journeys using Oyster. It records the details of every phone call made, every email sent, and every website visited. Make no mistake: the UK is now a police state, and has been for several years, despite their lack of guns. (And even that’s changing; a large number of squad cars now pack heat in the boot.)
Under Blair and now Brown, thousand-year-old legal traditions enshrined in the Magna Carta have been quietly eroded to the point of irrelevance. Guilty until proven innocent, stopping and searching without due cause, intimidating and timewasting are now everyday police tactics. It’s not even down to the cops themselves; in large part it’s driven by this government’s obsession with numbers and targets. If a policeman’s promotion depends on making one more arrest today, what else is he going to do but stop the next person who looks like he won’t complain too much?
What makes all this rather sad is that as a white middle-class male in gainful employment, I should be the Met’s strongest supporter. Instead, I have deep suspicions about their commitment to actually keeping bad people off the streets; it just seems they get their kicks these days from hassling people and screeching down streets at 100kmh. If in a bad situation, calling the cops is probably the last thing I’d do. Which should be – but isn’t – a huge, red, waving flag for Britain’s police commissioners.