Theresa May said on Wednesday that the legitimacy of British policing was in jeopardy following the Stephen Lawrence and other scandals, in an uncompromising speech that also pledged to break the power of the officers’ once feared trade union.
The home secretary stunned delegates at the Police Federation conference in Bournemouth as she criticised officers for in some instances displaying a “contempt for the public” in their handling of sensitive cases.
Citing excessive stop and search inflicted on black communities and failures in handling domestic violence cases, May said problems appeared to lie with a significant minority of officers rather than just “a few bad apples”.
She pledged to break the powerful federation, announcing an end to its automatic right to enrol police officers as its members, in effect curtailing the closed shop in policing .
As the home secretary took the stage she was greeted by polite applause, but when she left there was silence, as May warned that a string of scandals about corruption and the conduct of the federation itself risked destroying the bedrock of British policing, which is that officers exercise their powers through the consent of the public.
“If there is anybody in this hall who doubts that our model of policing is at risk, if there is anybody who underestimates the damage recent events and revelations have done to the relationship between the public and the police, if anybody here questions the need for the police to change, I am here to tell you that it’s time to face up to reality,” May said.
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