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Peter Hadden

Rough Justice Is No Solution

(February 1999)

From Socialist Voice, No. 9, February 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Drugs, joyriding, break-ins and robberies – those living in working class areas are all too well aware of the increased and increasing problem of crime. Since the ceasefires there has been a dramatic influx of hard drugs, especially heroin, into areas like Antrim, Ballymena and some outlying areas of Belfast.

Sickening break-ins and often physical attacks on elderly people are now almost a daily item in the news. The RUC offers no answer to these problems. They are not trusted or supported in Catholic working class areas. People know that they have in the past turned a blind eye to petty crime, sometimes using the criminals and “hoods” as informers, sometimes letting them run loose so as to demoralise the local population.

In Protestant working class areas there is also criticism of the RUC. It does not have the same political expression, in fact most people would defend the RUC from the criticisms by nationalists. Yet very often the same people would be outspoken in their own criticisms. That the RUC has not been able – or willing – to halt the increase in drug pushing and crime is clear to all.

The policing vacuum has left space for the paramilitaries. There has been a significant increase in the number of punishment beatings and attacks. Families Against Intimidation and Terrorism figures released at the end of January show 4 shootings and 12 beatings carried out by the IRA and 6 shootings and 15 beatings carried out by loyalists.

In part these attacks reflect pressure from people in the communities who are desperate to have something done to curb “anti-social” activities. In part they are down to the efforts by the paramilitaries to retain their grip on the areas.

This rough justice is no solution either. The line between carrying out punishments to stop crime and ensuring that there is no challenge to the day to day activities of local paramilitary bosses is a narrow one. Summary justice allows no appeal and there is no redress when attacks go wrong and people lose limbs or die from their wounds.

There is a need for a form of policing which is open, just and even handed and which has the confidence of the communities. This is only possible if the police service is based on, connected with and accountable to the local community. The phrase “community policing”, like many other terms, has been debased somewhat by misuse. The RUC have a “community” branch and often refer to themselves as a “community police”. Paramilitary inspired groups have also put forward ideas for “community policing”, meaning a variant of their present brutal methods.

Genuine community policing means local police services, based in the communities and with no political, paramilitary or industrial role. They should be fully accountable, with a fully independent complaints procedure.

The full control of policing should be in the hands of democratically elected police committees on which there could be representatives of the local authority, of the police and support staff, of workers in local workplaces, but with the single biggest representation going to those elected from the communities.

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Last updated: 5 October 2015