Debate Magazine

US-style Policing in the UK? No Thanks

Posted on the 16 August 2011 by Mikeb302000
This the title of a post in the Guardian's Political Blog:

America is a much more violent place than the UK, and its law and order settlement is not one any sensible foreigner would want to embrace.
This isn't just about guns, but the entire culture of lock 'em up and throw away the key or shoot the bastards
I have some sympathy for anyone who happens to be prime minister when urban riots break out. But they're all volunteers, and David Cameron seems to be getting into a muddle over his handling of the police and the coalition's supposed "zero tolerance" policy response to lawlessness.

We'd better get this right or we risk lurching into an American view of policing – as a smart article predicts – which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world: more than 2 million people in prison, twice that number on probation or parole, at any one time. No thanks.

Which would you prefer to pay for prevention, or having to lock these people up?

It was that the police initially saw the riots as a public order issue, a form of political protest like last winter's student riots or the G20 protests. In consequence, they handled them warily, aware that they might be criticised for heavy-handedness, as they were – by the Guardian among others – on those occasions.

Only on Monday, too late, did they see that they were mostly dealing with opportunistic and apolitical looting.

We can get into the reason for the riots, but it seems to be desperation.

"In 2011 there is an additional consumer component and a self-destructive one. Self-destruction is more dystopian even that nihilism. Not only does it imply hopelessness, it suggests this week's rioters are cut off not just from society, but also from themselves," wrote Malkani, the author of the novel Londonistan.

That's bleak. Which makes Caldwell's conservative worldly wisdom even bleaker. British culture has always been individualistic, but has become radically anti-authoritarian and diverse over the last 50 years. The old consensus, which permitted gentle, unarmed policing, is one of the casualties of this change, he argues. Reformers have thrown out the baby of authority with the bathwater of privilege.

"And this is the tragedy. Britain has chosen a different kind of liberty, one that does not rest on shared values. That is, it has chosen a US-style liberty, and this will have to be safeguarded in an American way," he writes.

Americans fear their police – and with good reason – but have confidence in the efficacy. The fact that Duggan was carrying a gun when shot would have ended the debate about injustice in America, Caldwell claims. We are heading down that road, too.

A frightening though. The author's conclusion:

There far more people in prison in the US than in China, with four times the population, and gun violence is rampant – more than 12,000 gun-related homicides in 2007 alone. It's a wonderful country in all sorts of ways if you're not poor, very hard if you are.

But America's law and order settlement is not one any sensible foreigner would want to embrace. Sorry, Bill Bratton, I know you've done some good work and we're all keen to learn from each other. But you were starting from a very different and much, much more violent place. We don't need it here.


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