Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Police Election Arrested?

Are the new Kent Police elections are over before they’ve begun.

Few people would argue for less democracy. And the new Police Commissioner elections on 15th November to oversee Kent Police should be part of the wider trend for accountability and transparency in the public sector.

Yet the signs are disappointing.

The £5,000 fee seems to have priced out all the Independent candidates. The short list of five includes Labour and Tory candidates (the latter already on the Kent Police Authority), the incumbent Chair of KPA, a UKIP candidate and Kent Police EU (!) adviser, and an Independent who was Mayor of Medway.

Not exactly inspiring – and barely a manifesto between them other than vague platitudes about reducing crime. Presumably as opposed to increasing it.

So feeble is the offering that there are concerns the turnout will plummet below 20% making the democratic mandate simply non-existent.

Of more concern is that ahead of the election a self-elected KCC 16- member group has been set up for the directly-elected Commissioner to report to rather than the public.

In effect we have almost the same system – although you might not think so from the recent scare-tactic ads of the Home Office or Police Federation of grannies being murdered in their beds if you don’t vote.

And this at a time when policing is under greater scrutiny than ever – whether it be Kent Police’s two attempts at multi-million purchases of spy drones. And a peculiar new national Police RAF Unit for helicopters or aircraft and presumably drones again.

Taking civil liberties

Civil liberties aren’t just up in the air and circling at 30,000 feet, but at ground level in Kent with 6-year extradition scandals such as Christopher Tappin. He’s jailed and sent to Texas and selling off his house in an FBI sting at best or fishing expedition set-up at worst. If the paperwork’s messed-up he could be on Death Row. As is Margate’s Joshua French in the Congo.

Clearly any Kent citizen with anything as meagre as a lost passport, credit card or traffic accident can expect the same lack of help from the Police and Embassy at home or abroad.

Surely the time is right, with the bloat of 42 Police forces likely to be downsized by two-thirds, for Kent Police specialisations in say an emergency foreign service, or lead review of EU arrest warrants and extraditions.

Reforms such as the 101 system could be easily adapted, similarly the improvements to Missing Persons, or Cold Case reviews such as the Deepcut barracks incident, or specialisations in drugs unit, dog searches, Third World exchange programmes are viable against the backdrop of the improved Kent Police three district reforms and one back office.

A thinner but better blue line

Policing is all the more important in Frontline Kent: 85% of drugs are seized in Belgium presumably on their way to Amsterdam and London - or Manchester. Chief Constable Fahey there having to bury two officers on the same day in a gun and grenade (!) drugs gang incident. And with Kent’s terrorist hot-spots of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral and Bluewater as well as arms conduits to and from Europe excellent policing in Kent is crucial for the UK.

From an advertising point of view, policing represents a creative challenge for the most difficult and dangerous profession – hence some of the greatest-ever advertising (remember Sir Robert Marks’ major contribution to road safety for tyres, or John Barnes not being able to be a policeman or even New York’s finest choosing to serve and protect?).

We can laugh at the Fashion Police approach of out-of-control procurement of multiple hats and trousers and T-shirts, yet there’s the very real horror of KCC childcare with a social services dept in such disarray that all 21 of Thanet’s care homes have not one Kent child in them, and 25% of the 1,700 looked-after children are missing - all the makings of a Rochdale or Derby scandal - with the Police either picking up the pieces or copping the blame.

Increasingly it seems, Kent councillors’ ceremonial badges on the rates should extend to a Jimmy Savile badge for fixing it for more Kent opportunities for every paedophile and sex offender.

Policing forward

There’s certainly plenty of national policing scandals such as the failure to blacklist the Police thug PC Simon Harwood after several violent incidents resulting in the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson at the 2009 G20 protests, (part of a wider pattern with only 8 officers being sacked in a decade), the Levenson scandal of rent-a-cop news stories and Hillsboro with hundreds of statements falsified for dozens of deaths – many of them without the policemen knowing and scapegoats of the higher-ups shifting the blame downwards to a junior Officer X.

And, as with the UK’s presidency of the G8 forum next year, with its emphasis on rape in war zones such as the Congo or Sierra Leone or Syria then Kent Police should be best-placed an urgent overhaul of not just childcare (presumably the torture of Kent’s old folks in their care homes or frozen in their own homes continues as normal) but the Kent Police rape unit and procedures.

While Kent Police successes such as investigations into African trafficking or witchcraft-sacrifices with the Osolase case and Islamic honour killings again allows for greater specialisation and future-forward policing – often to take up the slack of other failed public services.

Indeed, so decrepit is Kent governance that the Police could easily fill any arrest quotas with a wander through the council offices. The Parr and Poulson county corruption scandals of the 1970’s seem repeated with wilful denial by the councillor and civil servants presumably in the mistaken belief that the Police can’t or won’t arrest them in Kent.

Take scandals such as Pleasurama in Ramsgate – the largest seafront development in Kent – with the largest-ever donations to the local political parties, mystery blueprints, mystery Cayman Island companies and construction companies who’ve never built so much as a garden shed.

And civil service corruption veers from the simply inept such as paying the other Paul Carter the KCC Leader’s salary for years, payoffs and pension increases for failure, Icelandic and Santander losses and tobacco and gun investments. Or to out-and-out blatant criminality such as the £2M Laser fraud paid into the civil servant’s own bank account – because he asked for it. Or the 0% salary fraud of the Gang of Four and current TDC CEO and repeated TDC and RTC accounts fraud.

All coupled with a strange 1970’s homophobia of councillors wishing each other Aids or the sorts of references to shirtlifting and slags, that went out of fashion in public life around the same time as policemen’s capes and whistles.

Any colour so long as its blacktop?

While the frequent council and construction murky nexus of plasterboard, permits and public land scandals tarmacs every construction project with the same brush - even the Prime Minster’s visit to Party donor JCB’s site in Brazil - hopefully improving the favela slums rather than removing rainforest. That job’s largely done in the Garden of England with 3% of woodland left: the lowest level in Europe compared to say France with 24%, let alone Kent’s twinning partners in Hungary with nearer 80%, or the removal of 90% of Kent’s orchards.

While the mystery fires around Pleasurama spread to Dreamland in Margate, and its unique wooden roller coaster, reducing to ashes and rubble one of Britain’s top ten tourist attractions and facing – as was the Pfizer site at one point – calls for hundreds more overbuild houses and roads in a county with 23,000 homes empty.

And if the Police cop the blame for the failure to act on such scandals, then they’re certainly not alone in the public sector in dragging their heels on FOI some 7 years after it became law. Whether it be weapons stockpiles despite only a half-dozen murders a year in Kent, or the aquifer pollution and missing fines of Infratil at Manston (and presumably at Stansted if successful) allowing banned aircraft such as IranAir or Afghan Air and known gunrunners complete with 1am flights when the airport closes at 11pm.

While the corporate manslaughter of Infratil’s Fitzgerald, Clarke and now Buchanan deliberately removing of noise and air monitors from 2006 – even now, with the Police stood by wringing their hands – presumably stunned by the complicity and silence of MP’s - is a national public health scandal that, along with the Northfleet children and removal of rabies controls, makes Hillsboro seem a walk in the park.

And it’s more luck than expertise that Al Qaida didn’t score a gold at Canary Wharf in the Olympics.

And on a lesser scale, the police seem to have self-policed themselves out of the bulk of minor duties from parking, roadworks, graffiti, foot patrols and noise abatement.

The Police canteen culture seems to be not just chips with every meal but veering into car-crash policing of an insular and hamstrung public service. Take the Coastguard failure to regulate either the SS Richard Montgomery explosive wreck or the ships off Margate’s presumably waiting for another storm like 1953 or 1978 to restage the Torrey Canyon on the Blue Flag beaches before switching on the blues and twos.

Or there’s the prison reform of over-crowded petty criminals locked in their cells stocking up on Charles Bronson books, and Charles Bronson films while waiting for their turn on cop-killer Playstation games 24 hours a day and to improve the appalling reoffending rates.

While joined-up Policing thinking would extend beyond just the basics of a Kent Most Wanted list but to Courts whereby the end of jury trial allows for a closed-shop of non-regulation and lawyer-fraud of fake fees, switching courts, courtroom pretend-law and playing the public courts system for lawyers’ gain.

Public sector criminals

Not sure if the public sector boardrooms contain more criminals than your average prison? Try Southern Water’s repeated – and secret - sewage incidents (for a county with the longest coastline and most Blue Flag beaches and dependency on tourism a scandal) the cholera risk seems optional for their salaries and £300M profits.

Or there’s the Environment Agency scandal of Thor mercury in Margate and other sites – a pollution case so notorious the trial of the South African managers was held in the UK High Court - after the Margate site was banned and closed in 1988. Although it remains open to this day – certainly poisoning more Kent citizens than Crippen.

Or the NHS hospitals scandals as in Maidstone with dozens of patients dying from a lack of basic cleanliness and even prescriptions for water. Or the more subtle concerns over a lack of patient care and spiralling death rates at evenings and weekends.

Surely the new Commissioner elections pose a broader remit for the Police: prison, coastguard, courts and lawyers. While a public sector blacklist replaces silence or parroting of lessons learned and them mere job rotation to continue – at the public’s expense. And public sector pensions, salary fines and jail sentences as misconduct in public office and corporate manslaughter provide for simple and clear policing of the public sector for the benefit of the public.

The first Kent Police election may be a damp squib but may yet set the ground for an improved second election and directly-elected NHS and Education roles where Kent can lead the way with policing by consent rather than cant is worth voting for.

Tim Garbutt is the Managing Director of Sincerity Agency the leading green and ethical advertising agency in East Kent: www.sincerityagency.com and standing for Mayor to “Stop the Pollution, Stop the Corruption, Stop the Construction”: http://lovekentloveramsgate.blogspot.com

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