6 min read
A group of Conservative and Labour MPs are making a trip to the United States this week to learn from the police forces in New York City and Dallas.
The Home Affairs Select Committee, a cross-party committee of MPs which scrutinises the work of the Home Office on policing and a range of other areas, is carrying out an inquiry into national policing priorities, in the wake of a string of scandals involving the Metropolitan Police in particular.
A delegation from the committee will visit the States as part of the inquiry to inform how UK police should handle violent crime and drug offences.
The MPs are also concerned with how to restore public confidence in policing after a number of shocking incidents involving serving Met Police officers, including the conviction of serial rapist David Carrick this year, and the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens in 2021.
The Met Police has also faced criticism for the arrest of republican demonstrators at the coronation of King Charles III, using new powers granted under the Public Order Act.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton is among those going on what he described as a “whistlestop tour” through the US, along with two other Conservative MPs and three Labour MPs on the committee.
After several witness sessions for the inquiry in the UK, Loughton said the committee had been recommended to visit the New York Police Department (NYPD) due to its “interesting history” in reducing crime, and Dallas in Texas, where he said there have been “innovative” policing efforts.
“What we have in the States are all sorts of problems and challenges on an altogether different scale to what we have in the UK,” Loughton told PoliticsHome, highlighting the many accusations of racism and incidents where American police have been involved in the “unjustified” shooting of people, a disproportionate number of whom are Black.
Loughton added that while these cases were handled “really badly”, the UK could learn from US police on how to recover from such crises.
“I hope we never go down the road that they’ve gone down in the States, so it would be interesting to find out how they got there and what they are doing to try and row back from that,” he continued.
The NYPD has been involved in many incidents of misconduct and corruption: the New York Times shared multiple videos of NYPD police attacking protesters without cause during demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd by police in 2020, and analysis by the FiveThirtyEight website in 2021 showed that New York City spent at least an average of $170 million annually in police misconduct settlements over 10 years.
Although the UK has significantly less gun crime and fewer incidents of officers discharging firearms than the US, Loughton explained that by learning from other jurisdictions in the world, he hoped that the committee could gain a better understanding of the UK’s “unique” system of “policing by consent” – a concept created by the founder of the modern police force Robert Peel, which advocates for an ethical police force that is trusted by the public.
Describing public confidence as the “big issue” facing UK policing, Loughton said the committee is trying to determine how far a culture of misogyny and racism has pervaded forces such as the Met, and whether those forces are doing enough to identify these issues and root them out.
He also said the inquiry will consider what roles the Home Secretary and Mayor of London should play in reforms, and bring about a change in law to make it easier for the Met Commissioner to sack people who engage in misconduct.
Although Loughton admitted the committee had been tough on Met Commissioner Mark Rowley on their latest oral evidence session on the policing of protests, he thought the commissioner was in a “really difficult position” after taking on the responsibility last year to fix a “cultural problem” in the Met.
“It’s not just about picking out a few bad apples,” Loughton said. “He’s come in at the most difficult time, so he’s got a very big job to do.”
As well as considering how to restore public trust, the Home Affairs Committee will use the trip to the US to learn about American policing of drugs and violent crime.
“We want to hear from the police how they deal with drugs, particularly their equivalent of ‘county lines’ and criminal gangs where I think they’ve had some success,” Loughton said.
“It’s a growing problem we’ve got in the UK and probably the most worrying aspect in criminal activity is county lines and violent activity between gangs.”
The Conservative MP said US police have “much more experience” dealing with these issues as gang crime is more prevalent in the States, and said he will want to see whether their methods can be applied to UK police operations.
Loughton is also curious about drug laws in the US, where states such as California and Colorado have decriminalised the recreational use of cannabis.
While the MP said he has heard “horror stories” about how decriminalisation has impacted some American states, he wanted to speak to people in person to find out more.
“The best way to find out is to go and see them face to face and go out on patrol with police officers and get their take on it firsthand,” he said.
The committee members will receive briefings from the British Consulate on arrival, then will spend time with the police forces in both cities to learn from officers on the ground and speak to local mayors about policing strategy.
Although Loughton said there will not be much of a chance for “R&R” on the trip, he said he and his colleagues might be invited to join an evening rodeo in Dallas, before flying back to the UK on Friday.
“It would have been nice to have some more time, but this is quite a big inquiry we’ve done and we’ve got more evidence to take,” he said.
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