of powerful self-interest groups', Toby Harris, chair of the
Metropolitan Police Authority told an international gathering last night.
the access to e-mail and other data, the most valuable source of
information - 'the lifeblood of policing' - is not, as is so often
imagined, in the warehouses of electronic data, but from the ordinary
'The reason this information flows from the public to the police can
be summed up in one word - trust.
'Trust in the police to act fairly and with integrity, trust in the
police that the information will be used judiciously and without
attracting retribution from anyone.
'Without that trust, information stops and police become ineffective.
The police would become isolated from the community it serves; it
must always act in the best interests of society and with its
Toby Harris was speaking at the Science Museum during a dinner for
250 international delegates of the Modernising Criminal Justice
conference being held in London this week by the Metropolitan Police
and the FBI. He told them that a police service cannot operate
successfully without the implicit consent of the people it polices,
or without the explicit consent of a democratically elected
'If both consents are present, then the police become nothing less
than a controlling force, an oppressive instrument of powerful self
interest groups. In some parts of the world, this will be the
military, in others local 'war lords' and in some, the senior
officers in the police force itself. If policing is thus distorted or
dictated to by unrepresentative groups, the trust of the public is
gone. The only possible result is a downward spiral that manifests
itself in corruption, organised crime and abuses of human rights.'
He said that the police in the UK, along with other public services
are more accountable now than they have ever been in their history.
Apart from the Police Authority, the Audit Commission and Her
Majesty's Inspector of Constabularies, the courts too ensure that
police do not abuse their special responsibility. He said the
Commissioner is held to account for the actions of his staff and last
year had to pay out millions of pounds in damages for litigation
against the Met for wrongful arrests, unlawful detention and other
There are firms of solicitors who specialise in suing the police, who
network with other like-minded firms to 'exploit chinks in armour and
weak links in systems'. Nevertheless, the UK takes accountability
very seriously, he said.
'I would rather it was so, than be party to a policing system which
operated without the consent of society. And I believe a police
authority meeting in public and holding its police service to account
is an essential part of this process.
'But the need for consent also brings with it another important
element: policing must have regard to the impact it is having on the
communities policed. This is not to say that you must take a softer
approach to any one community but that the approach should be
'The Met is currently mounting a highly successful safer streets
campaign targeting street crime which is bringing about a reduction
in offences and a large number of arrests. This campaign has much
community support but a significant proportion of those arrested are
from a particular community.
'For community support to be retained it is important that the
problems that lead the young people concerned into crime are also
seen to be being addressed through targeted youth services,
educational and family support and diversionary schemes.
'If that is not seen to be happening as well, community support may
dwindle and gradually the concept of policing by consent will have
been eroded. This will, of course, often be the responsibility of
agencies other than the police.
'Part of my role as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority is on
behalf of the police service to press those other agencies to take
the necessary action to complement the work of the police to ensure
that the principle of community support and consent is retained.'