27th March 2021
Here is a tweet.
Policing by consent is a general principle not duty. Peaceful protest is a qualified not absolute right, has limits when it infringes on rights of others. the law includes the current prohibition on public gatherings. And technically we’re crown servants not public servants— GlosPolFedChair (@FedGlos) March 27, 2021
The tweet purports to be from the chair of the Gloucestershire branch of the Police Federation.
This description must be true, because a tweet from that account was RTd just hours before by the account of the Gloucestershire Police Federation – and it can be assumed that they would not RT an imposter.
And that, in turn, is the account of the Gloucestershire Police Federation as it is directly linked to at their website (top right).
So, yes, it is a real tweet.
A real tweet by a real chair of a real police federation.
Having established the tweet’s authenticity, let us now look at its content.
The tweet states that the police are not public servants.
More exactly that ‘technically’ the police are not public servants.
As there is no ‘technical’ definition of the term ‘public servant’ this is a nonsense.
That a police constable is a servant of the crown – as are many civil servants – does not mean that they are also not public servants.
Crown servants – and others employed by the state in whatever legal form – are public servants.
Now look at the context of the tweet – it is intended as a correction in reply to a fair comment that the police should serve the public, not the government.
The reply denies that this is the case.
But not only does this tweet deny that the police are public servants – it also frames the concept of ‘policing by consent’ as a ‘general principle’ but not a ‘duty’.
Here the tweeter errs again.
If one actually reads the once-famous Peelite principles of policing, you will see this as the second principle:
‘To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.’
Indeed, each of the principles is set out as an express ‘instruction’ to constables: ‘to recognise’, ‘to maintain’, ‘to use’ and so on.
As such each of the principles is also a duty – and this is because – ahem, technically – a duty can also be a principle, and vice versa.
Especially when they are expressly framed as such, as they are in that formal definition of ‘policing by consent’.
But for our tweeter, these express instructions can be defined out of from having any actual application because they are only ‘principles’.
This, like the tweeter’s other distinction, is itself worrying and telling.
Policing by consent is not an optional nice-to-have in modern society – it is foundational.
That it can be expressly stated to not be a duty – notwithstanding the actual words of the instructions – is a disturbing insight.
Perhaps the tweet was a just a slip, not to be taken seriously.
(Though, remember the police themselves are often not so forgiving of the slips of others.)
Perhaps there will be a clarification, or something.
Or perhaps the tweets provided an indication – an insight – into a mindset of certain police officers.
That not being public servants and that not policing by consent are both a quick distinction away from having practical application in the discharge of their important role in our society.
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