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Audrey Farrell

Best bacon

(November 1992)

From Socialist Review 158, November 1992, pp. 32–33.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Chief Constables
Robert Reiner
Oxford University Press £8.99

This survey, limited as it is, gives a picture of how the powerful elites at the top of the police force incorporate ruling class ideas into their total view of society, including crucially divisive ideas.

Robert Reiner has written better books about the police. His research is now limited by his politics. He believes that the left should stop attacking the police so that through tactful management they will reform themselves. He therefore conducts in depth interviews with 43 Chief Constables wearing kid gloves.

There are interesting quotes. On crime prevention at least 55 percent of Chief Constables hold the view that ‘increasing police numbers and powers is not the key to controlling crime.’ One says ‘Where we have failed is that we fail miserably in trying to prevent crime.’ Some are also aware of a build-up of class hatred: ‘I tell my people they’re very lucky ... they’ve never worked in an area where the hate is bouncing off the walls at them as they are walking on their beat.’

There is a basic recognition of their real function in some of the statements: ‘The primary duty of the police is to prevent public disorder.’ But their statements reveal that peaceful demonstrations and mass pickets are seen as violent disorder. One of the functions of riot policing is to ‘make it unattractive for people to gather together.’

The prevalent ideas in any society are those of the ruling class and part of the police’s role is to reinforce those ideas. It is not surprising therefore to find that ‘altogether Chief Constables tend towards a conservative social philosophy. The ideal is a stable order and firm structure of authority, in which all people know and accept their place in the hierarchy. This is perceived as threatened by the advent of less deferential, more permissive rootless cosmopolitanism.’

Reiner avoids direct questions on racism even though he says that ‘little is actually known about the views of chief officers on the question.’ He mentions that it has somehow become conventional wisdom since the Scarman report that racism is a ‘canteen culture ... that senior ranks are concerned to eradicate.’

Even though he doesn’t probe the issue, racist views are presented unmasked in the interviews. Reiner concludes ‘Overall these volunteered comments do not endorse the standard view that prejudice is predominantly confined to the rank and file.’ As he says, ‘Not only were minorities often regarded as a source of crime and disorder, they also tended to be seen as instigators rather than victims of violence.’

There is no investigation of sexism or attitudes towards gays in the police or their harassment of the poor and the homeless. Nor does Reiner ask about Freemasonry.

Nevertheless this book is interesting enough to borrow rather than buy. There is certainly nothing in it which contradicts our analysis of the police as the violent force of the ruling class.

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