Describe the system for maintaining law and order in your country. Can you suggest any improvements?
One hundred and fifty years ago a Conservative British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, founded the modern police force. This replaced the old system of town and village constables in their local peace-keeping role under the beadle. Very quickly the new force obtained a national respect which it had never previously enjoyed, and despite a vocal left-wing and liberal minority, it retains that general respect today.
In case of serious trouble, behind the police force stands that section of the British Army which is home-based. It has, with reluctance, been called on in various roles during domestic emergencies. To man essential services during a general strike, or a strike of one or more of the essential services, including railways, buses, power-stations, water works, ambulance drivers and fire brigades.
A less frequent role has been to quell riots and this is unpopular with the army since soldiers do not like inflicting injury or even death on fellow citizens. Examples are riots in pre-war London stirred up by the National Socialist movement, and more recently the riots in Liverpool. Birmingham and London attributed to a mixture of ethnic discrimination and unemployment. British people accept the need on occasion for this military back-up, but prefer it not to be used.
Today the police are controlled by the Home Secretary, who is also responsible for that other troubled part of Britain, Northern Ireland, through the Secretary of State for Ireland. Ireland has always caused more headaches than the rest of Britain put together, and in that country the Royal Ulster Constabulary, an armed force, needs the presence of armed and equipped British troops, who are constantly called into para-military action.
Opinions vary from those who advocate a ‘troops out’ policy, leaving Ireland to get on with a civil war, to those who would like to bring the whole of Ireland, forcibly, back into British hands. Since the Irish Free State came into existence in 1922, and before then, during the First World War Southern Ireland has tended to side with the enemies of Britain.
The county police forces of the rest of Britain are controlled by chief constables responsible to the Home Secretary, and the Metropolitan Police Force by a commissioner, also responsible to the Home Secretary. Because of crime increase, and the modern mobility of criminals there is more co-operation between these separate forces than before, and often, when the ramifications of crime cover a large area, joint operational headquarters are set up, their work being aided by data banks in a nationwide computer system.
Apart from straightforward crime, the situation is further complicated today by crime in a new guise i.e.. political violence, mostly in London. This often consists of a group of extremists from one foreign country attacking the embassy of another, and trying to buy publicity or political advantage with threats and the taking of hostages. To deal with these we now use a quiet little section of the armed forces known as the SAS just as we use a new section of the police force to quell street rioting, looting and arson, known as the SPG. So far these have not often been needed.
The traditional police force has only been armed with a whistle and a short truncheon, maintaining law and keeping order on the streets by presence rather than violence. Some of us deplore the tendency to issue firearms, but recognize that the police are at a disadvantage otherwise. Do we have to accept that the world must become more violent, meeting violence with violence, or work for a diminishing crime rate and a more peaceful and law-abiding community?
If the latter, there will need to be fundamental as well as cosmetic changes in our national life. The cosmetic changes include less policing by vehicles, and more on foot; more community policemen back on ‘the beat’ and knowing their area and people, and being known by them. Another will be to restore confidence in the policeman’s fairness and integrity in areas where interested parties have sought to erode this confidence. Local authority police committees to monitor police activities are in the hands of anti-law and order elements, and do no good. They merely erode police morale.
The fundamental changes needed go deeper. Since the motion to restore the death penalty was defeated in Parliament, a life-sentence must mean what it says. Firearm availability must be more strictly controlled. Above all children and young people should be less exposed to television and film violence, kept off drugs and alcohol, and taught, in the home, a new respect for law and order.