Policemen and policewomen today have to deal with very serious problems such as continuing crime, drug misuse, terrorismas well as a number of other problems like relations with ethnic communities.
The civilian police are responsible in Britain for the maintenance of law and order. The duties of the police are varied, ranging from assisting at accidents to safeguarding public order and dealing with lost property. One their main function is, of course, the control of crime.
Though the duties and functions of the British police are broadly similar to many other countries, it is organised very differently in that Britain has no national police force controlled by central government.
The oldest police force in Britain is the Metropolitan Police, which
was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel to combat crime in London, and from which the modern forces have grown.
Outside London the police are all local forces, there are 52 separate police forces for each area (43 in England and Wales, eight in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland), which corresponds either to county council or to regional areas. Each regional force has a local police authority - a police committee of local councillors and magistrates, which are charged with law enforcement in their localities. In the 41 police areas outside London, they normally have 17 members - nine locally elected councillors, three magistrates and five independent members. The professional head of each regional force is the Chief Constable, who is responsible for all operational and administrative decisions including the actions of the force.
The Home Secretary and the Scottish and Northern Ireland Secretaries, together with police authorities and chief constables, are responsible for providing an effective and efficient police service in the UK.
The Metropolitan Police zone of operation covers Greater London,
and is currently under the direct responsibility of the Home Secretary,
although the Government has put forward proposals for a new body with
a majority of elected representatives. The 'Met' as it is popularly called,
also provides certain national police services, including the maintenance
of a national record of all criminals and crimes, to which local police
forces may refer. The famous «Scotland Yard» is the Criminal
Investigation Department (CID), which gets its popular name from the
New Scotland Yard, where its offices are situated, close to Whitehall and
the Houses of Parliament.
The central government gives the local authorities grants towards the cost of policing. Inspectors from the Home Office direct and control the local forces, reporting to the Home Secretary who can approve and disapprove of appointments and removals of Chief Constables, but the actions of a local police force are normally not the responsibility of any minister.
There are over 150,000 policemen and women in the UK, which means one officer for every 400 people in the total population.
Unlike the police in almost every other country, the British policeman enjoyed a trusted, respected and friendly relationship with the public, as he has tended to embody a presence in the local community, fairness, a certain stolidity, helpfulness and incorruptibility.
The British police are probably still among the finest in the world, but clearly there are serious and growing problems. Surveys report that the police use unnecessary force on arrest, falsify statements, plant evidence and use violence in police stations. A disciplinary code of conduct has been introduced to improve the performance of the police and maintain public confidence in their impartiality. The way the public feels about the police is of fundamental importance to police ability to control crime and maintain public order.
Another problem is that the majority of the police are white. Only a disproportionately small number are from the ethnic communities. Police forces recognise the need to recruit more women and members of the ethnic minorities so that the police fully represented the community. In England and Wales there are currently about 18,500 women officers; about 2,300 officers are from ethnic minorities. Still many people in these communities are hostile to or sceptical of the police.
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