If evidence were needed for the importance of greater accountability of our police, we got it on Wednesday. News that police attempted to smear the victims of the Hillsborough disaster to divert attention from their own failings is both shocking and frightening.
Shocking, because the people charged with upholding the law have systematically perverted it. Frightening, because if we cannot trust our the people paid to protect us, what chance do we have of trusting anyone else – our neighbour, the new family in the next door street, strangers on the train?
Police and Crime Commissioners would not have prevented the Hillsborough disaster. They may not even have prevented the attempted cover up, though they would have made it much harder for the professional force to close ranks.
But, Commissioners would have provided an elected and publicly accountable figure for families to hold responsible. They would have been spared the torment of 23 years of banging their heads against bureaucratic walls. If the Commissioner had not addressed the families’ concerns they would have faced their wrath at the ballot box.
When we get them, in November, Police and Crime Commissioners will answer for the conduct of their forces. They will hold responsibility for ensuring complaints are dealt with fairly and, crucially, that the results are communicated clearly.
Standards of discipline, integrity and professional behaviour start at the top. They are reflected in dress, manners and bearing – unfashionable though it may sound. Police and Crime Commissioners, if they are doing their job, should support Chief Constables in upholding, even raising, the professional standards of their forces.
Police forces may find the degree of openness and publicity required uncomfortable at first. They have moved on from the 1990s. They are already more professional and accountable.
But, without public trust policing becomes little more than a half-hearted occupation of resentful communities by people in uniforms. Consent has been central to British policing since 1829.
After the London Riots, the Tomlinson case, Jean Charles de Menezes and now Hillsborough, restoring the trust necessary for that consent will take boldness and a leap of faith on the part of police forces and their newly elected PCCs across the county.