Press Release – 2013 University of West London Lecture

Extract from Speech

Public Lecture to be given by James T H. Cooke

Confronting Political Control of the Police: A fast changing landscape with operational consequences

James Cooke served for 33 years with Scotland Yard retiring as a Chief Inspector in 2009. He was directly responsible to Sir Ian Blair and Sir John Stevens for work to control gun and gang crime in the capital. In 2005 he led the review into how the most dangerous violent offenders could be better identified and controlled. This led to 42 recommendations of reform on the Public Protection structure, most of which have now been implemented. He was commended several times for this work.


Today we stand on a knife edge. All the outstanding things about our policing model, in the world’s oldest democracy, are about to be abandoned in a perfect storm involving issues of power, integrity and leadership.

Policing’s founder, Sir Robert Peel, whose foresight and courage was to establish a non-political and independent force to serve ALL the people and uphold the law of the land in an unbiased way, is under real threat. The pieces are rapidly on the move before our eyes. If we look very closely behind the flurry of screaming news headlines here are the signs:

 There has been a sudden lurch towards political control, rather than accountability, over the police which has manifested itself through both subtle and direct operational changes such as:

  • The appointment of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in 2012. These are full time executives with total power over (a) how ALL monies on policing is spent by the local Chief Constable (b) Setting ALL operational police priorities and (c) the hiring and firing of Chief Constables. These appointments are for 3 years and candidates are often political activists from the main stream parties with an agenda of short term priorities. They have a full time role to sit on the shoulder of the Chief Constable with TOTAL control directly and indirectly over what he can do.
  • Chief Constables no longer have any discretionary money for spending on emerging threats as overtime has all now been dramatically curtailed. He/she is totally dependent on the PCC
  • Some PCCs will be good some will be dangerous. It is fast becoming another postcode lottery

Accountability for operational work has moved irrevocably from a duty to the courts and the law of the land to the State Executive, exercised through the Home Secretary and the PCCs. Look at the signs:

  • Just recently the Chief Magistrate of England & Wales, John Fassenfelt, warned about the creeping tentacles of a police state emerging. He deplored the massive use of police cautions to deal with serious crimes as well as first time minor offenders.  Just in 2012 90,000 cases of robbery, assault and burglary had been dealt with by police caution. This took away the right for the courts to be the arbitrator of guilt and punishment in preference for a cost efficient expedient administrative conclusion. This has come about by parliamentary action and pressure over the last 20 years.
  • The role of Magistrates and JPs on police authorities has been taken away with no role at all in overseeing the actions of a chief Constable. This role had been previously there, some historians would argue, since 1285 and the Statute of Winchester. Policing, according to the great Lord Denning, is “beholden to no one except the law of the land.”
  • The great lie of localism and bottom up responsive policing is beginning to emerge as more and more neighbourhood policing panels challenge and object to the top down direction of their PCC against local needs and issues.

Integrity Issues continue to blight the good name of the police and the selfless devotion of the vast majority of serving officers, many of whom, have laid down their lives over 184 years of modern policing. Some of the allegations are justified and some are NOT. However the courts are no longer in charge of this process as the executive machine seems to be taking an ever greater role in investigating, trying and convicting officers before they ever get near a court. Just look at the “PlebGate” spectacle:

  • Keith Vaz now sits as Grand Judge over policing. The Home Affairs Select Committee has taken on a mantle far above its role and terms of reference. They are declaring which officers are guilty before they get anywhere near a fair hearing in a court.
  • Damian Green Home Office Minister of Policing declares that corruption and integrity issues are rife and a general overhaul of police ethical behavior is well over due. This is truly astounding from a man arrested in 2008 for receiving and using stolen Home Office Secret documents for political purposes. Where are the ethics and integrity in Parliament itself, with scandals of continuing expense abuse and illegal lobbying throughout. It’s certainly not fit to pontificate over policing as it stands today.
  • Police fabrication of evidence is always an unedifying thing but we still await the conclusions of the CPS and IPCC on these matters and everyone deserves a fair hearing on the evidence. If evidence was fabricated this is totally unacceptable. What’s extraordinary is that the original sin by Andrew Mitchell of intimidating officers to open the main security gates, on successive days, in Downing Street has been largely forgotten now. The whole farcical uproar over whether the word “Plebs” was used is a testamount to how far the UK has subsided into a manufactured focus about social class divisions.

Police leadership has for my entire career been a controversial topic and the suitability of Bramshill to produce high calibre leaders at a junior, middle and senior command level is highly dubious. The focus has for far too long been on Home Office ideology and fitting the “current skin”. We don’t want political clones, we want deep thinking and operationally competent leaders who are trained and assessed on the basis of a sound competency framework tailored to modern policing needs. The National Policing College has an opportunity to change the mould. I also remain very skeptical about senior direct entrant leaders from industry and police agencies abroad. Understanding the dynamics of community policing and crime at a local level should always be a prerequisite to moving forward at a more strategic level. This intimate operational understanding then feeds good decision making based on knowledge and awareness of reality. However there is ample opportunity to devise a fast track system of a much more appropriate quality. This should not be based on how articulate and educated the candidate is but on hard won work performance and potential to motivate and lead a team.

The patterns of change over 184 years of UK policing are rapidly accelerating away from its founding principles. This may beckon on a dark and sinister period when policing is firmly controlled by the state and not the law of the land.


Date & Time of Public Lecture: Wednesday 13 November 2013, 5.30pm refreshments (6pm start). Wine and canapés will be provided after the lecture.

Venue: University of West London, St Mary’s Road, Ealing, London W5 5RF

Nearest tube: Ealing Broadway or South Ealing.

Web address: The event is free but booking to reserve a seat is recommended: or call 0208 231 2912.
For further information:

  • University of West London Press Office: Salma Khan on 0208 231 2966,, or Out of Hours (evenings and weekends): Carly Beake on 07920 500624


Notes to Editors:

  1. The University of West London (UWL) has been named the Best Modern University in London (Guardian University League Table 2013) and 94% of the University’s graduates are in employment within 6 months of graduating (Employment Performance Indicators figures published by Higher Education Statistics Agency on 4 July 2013).

We aim to do everything we can to help students to gain a work placement during their time with us, so that they have the right mix of academic and practical skills to help them prosper. This is why students enrolling at the University from autumn 2013 will, for the first time, be offered a guaranteed work experience opportunity.

The academic schools within the University of West London comprise The Business School; London College of Music; Ealing School of Art, Design and Media; School of Computing and Technology; London School of Hospitality and Tourism; Ealing Law School; College of Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare; School of Psychology, Social Work and Human Sciences.

For more information about the University of West London, please visit or follow us on Twitter @UniWestLondon

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