To Protect and to Serve

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2023
In: Editorial
Written by: The Editor

To fully appreciate the gravity of this Editorial, you will need a bit of context. Last week, Wiltshire Police announced that it had commissioned an internal review of its Rural Crime Team (RCT) which has resulted in the force “establishing a new framework to ensure the suitability of personnel working within the unit“. Those who feel this statement has Orwellian overtones have every right to be concerned.

I have been fortunate to meet some great Police Officers both here and abroad. One thing they all had was a sense of duty. On passing out as constables they became a key part of the community which they had served as uniformed probationers. Every constable is an independent legal entity and the public’s guarantee of impartiality. Officers of the Crown operate independent of undue influence, interference and with a personal responsibility which requires both training and commitment. They are largely trusted by the wider public and can be said to ‘Police by consent’
To reinforce this sense of duty, and to enable the transition from probationary officers to constables able to carry out their roles and responsibilities to society, recruits still need to become a Police Constable as recognized in law, including the power of arrest and the right to carry a warrant card. This is quite a responsibility and is reinforced by new officers swearing an oath which is now included in the Police Reform Act of 2002.

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly service the [Crown] in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law”


So what has gone so badly wrong within Wiltshire Police that its management has been declared to be in need of external remedial help as one of six forces in England currently placed in special measures. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) The police watchdog has found the force “inadequate” in three areas of policing

  1. Responding to the public
  2. Protecting vulnerable people
  3. Good use of resources
But, as we explained above in some detail these should be the backbone of  the core duties for all serving warranted Police Officers, requirements which they have sworn to protect.
Somehow, somewhere and despite the day-to-day control of a Police and Crime Commissioner, Wiltshire Police have bowed to faux but very noisy outrage and mob rule by a tiny minority, without considering the reputation of policing in Wiltshire, which they must know from the fact that the Inspectorate has them in special measures, is already at an all-time low.Nowhere in the affirmation does is suggest that Police Constables are empowered to make moral judgements on the conduct of others. When they have crossed that line, and there are numerous instances available to any student of Civil Liberties of that line being crossed, then the Courts have been quite robust in ensuring that Police Officers follow the law, and not their own moral, occasionally highly prejudiced agenda. This is a particularly important distinction when, from experience, some officers have seemed to allow their ambition and need for success, to kick any sense of control over their moral conduct into the very long grass.
The Office of Police and Crime Commissioner is a powerful one, but a political elected one. The post holder does not have to undergo Probationary Police training and it might therefore be appropriate to ask ‘who guards the guards?’ Do personal or political whims drive policy until once again the fixed term appointment becomes accountable to the public though the ballot box?
A reasonable person may then ask, Why with a fairly new Chief Constable and a PCC keen to be re-elected, and at what point, was it decided that despite the force being in special measures and therefore failing the wider public in almost every respect, it had the capacity and time to decide it was now vitally important to ensure Wiltshire police staff (apparently both constables and civilian) have no personal links to hunts, either in the past or currently, and also require staff to “disclose links to any rural based hobby or initiative that could potentially call into question their policing impartiality.” This must mean that despite the Oath above affirmed by all warranted carrying police constables Wiltshire Police Senior Management Team has decided it cannot trust its own officers. Where will this retrospective micromanagement stop? Does Wiltshire have the capacity and budget for it – or is it more important to be seen to placate a noisy minority at the expense of your own officer’s :- credibility, experience, expertise and tacit knowledge and wider public trust in impartiality?

It is quite clear from reading current  strategy documenation that this Draconian dictat may have come about through previously inadequate leadership, a fact which is highlighted by the force currently being in special measures, and this has led to confusion within the force. For example, the Rural Crime team’s advice and information document states that “It’s not just an offence to hunt illegally. You are also breaking the law if you: assist in an illegal hunt, such as allowing hunters to use your land or providing them with dogs or watch or attend an illegal hunt.” Such statements are fundamentally flawed and should never have been published. However, another document clarifies that  “Wildlife law is complicated and it can be hard to know whether something is a crime and whether, or when, to involve the police.”  Who decided the force has the right to impose a retrospective moral code upon its own staff without any apparent safeguards, regardless of whether or not they are warrant carrying constables?  What will be the next requirement to be disclosed – perhaps it might be whether as a child you had certain cuddly toys or ate certain jams  the labelling of which might now by some be considered inappropriate? Or perhaps that you don’t support a local sports team or participation in it by a certain group of people with values or attributes with which you have issues? Perhaps they have red hair or are overweight.  More importantly just how does this policy even come close to support the areas in which Wiltshire Police have acknowledged challenges -e.g. Responding to the public, Protecting vulnerable people and, (demonstrating) Good use of resources.

More worryingly what if the concept of a “new framework to ensure the suitability of personnel” was rolled out through each part of the entire force? Would that still be policing by consent?
Please follow the various links in the rural press to ensure Wiltshire Police are aware of the feelings of the wider rural public not just those with a noisy and highly personal agenda pretending to represent the moral majority.