Sun, 25 Oct 2009

Shooting the principles of policing in the foot

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot four years ago by a police officer from CO19, the Metropolitan Police Service specialist firearms unit. Twenty-one armed officers from CO19 are now carrying out routine patrols in London, with this number to double next month. The decision to have armed patrols on foot and motorbike in the street of London, is a radical break from the principles of policing the British police has been know for. Amazingly for a decision affecting so deeply the relationship between the police and Londoners, it was apparently taken without informing the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, anyone at the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) or the London Mayor. No consultation with Londoners either. Several MPA members have already publicly expressed their opposition to this plan.

This much is true @ Theatre503 Jennette Arnold said:

We have spent years working on relations between the communities I represent and the police and – thanks to this hard work – they have never been better. All that hard work might as well be thrown away and the contract between the community and the police torn up if this is the future of policing in London.

No one asked us or the people I represent if this was acceptable and when they do I shall tell them it isn't. It isn't acceptable to throw away the principle of policing by consent. I will fight this tooth and nail.

Jenny Jones wrote:

The change was also made without any discussion of the rules of engagement – exactly how does one use a Heckler & Koch at 800 rounds per minute on densely populated housing estates and streets if you meet a sudden threat? This move has all the necessary ingredients of a tragedy waiting to happen. Reactive armed policing is very different. There is usually some foreknowledge of numbers, range, area etc but unexpected encounters with gunmen can make for unpredictable outcomes.

Even highly trained officers can make mistakes. I don't mean the kind of stupid mistakes that lead to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, I mean the kind of mistake where you shoot yourself in the foot and leg when your gun gets caught in your clothing (Jan 2006), or where you shoot a fellow officer in the chest on a firing range. Guns are dangerous weapons, even in skilled hands.

I don't remember any MPA members coming forward to express disagreement when the MPA promoted Cressida Dick – the gold commander in charge of the operation in which a CO19 officer shot Jean Charles de Menezes – to Deputy Assistant Commander in September 2006 and to Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime in June this year. The shoot to kill policy that was in place was secret at the time. The just discovered introduction of regular armed police patrolling the streets of London may have remained secret if it hadn't been revealed by the Police Review magazine.

Two years ago, the IPCC decided not to discipline Cressida Dick (this was welcomed by the MPA). Recently, the IPCC stood by its decision that no officers involved in the operation that led to shooting of de Menezes should face disciplinary proceedings.

Vivian Figueiredo, cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes reacted to this decision:

The inquest jury decided that Jean was not killed lawfully, that many terrible mistakes were made and they did not accept police officers’ accounts. Yet the IPCC think no-one should ever be held accountable for this. Our family and the British public have been completely failed by this decision, we all live under the terror that the same thing could happen again. Nobody should accept this.

This much is true, a new play Paul Unwin and Sarah Beck about what happened before, during and in the years following Jean Charles de Menezes' death is performed from 2009-10-27 til 2009-11-21 at the Theatre503. Paul Unwin explains the title:

The reason it is called This Much is True is because there is a lot of ambiguity of what is true and I think probably we have put it more clearly than anyone as to exactly what happened and why he got shot. I think I can put my hands up and say, for all the research we have done, the people we have spoken to and reading the very long inquest, we have a very clear sense of why the tragedy occurred.

What has then emerged is a play which really has voices never heard before and you get a very diverse sense of the experience of what happened.

Update: 'I wish to be clear: there have not been any routine armed foot patrols, and nor will there be any.' said Sir Paul Stephenson.

First published on 2009-10-25; last updated on 2009-10-28.

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