Monday, 18 February 2008

Review – The State of the Police, Phil Scraton (1985)

This book, comes from the ‘left idealist’ school of critical criminology. (The term left idealist isn’t of their own choosing, but one Jock Young applied to them and which I use for the purpose of differentiation). This approach, around Joe Sim, Phil Scraton, Paul Gilroy and others, argued quite fervently against the realist turn taken by the left realists of Jock Young, Richard Kinsey and John Lea. The book in fact is to an extent a reply to John Lea and Jock Young’s ‘What Is To Be Done About: Law and Order?’
I find parts of the book quite good. Indeed Scraton gives a good history of the police, in particular signling out where they have been used against the struggles of the working class and also attempting to show how (in)effective attempts to subject the police to democratic control had been, particularly in Merseyside and London. He also comments on the use of the police during the 1984-5 Miner’s Strike and the lack of accountability here too.
However, missing from this history, is the struggles of the police themselves. Indeed, the 1918 police strike gets a couple of lines mention in passing. The book as a whole tends to treat police officers as one reactionary mass, which is a dangerous and inaccurate way of looking at the police force.
The other problem that I have with this book is it’s conclusion. After discussing attempts to institute democratic control, it also attempts a critique of the left realist position towards this which doesn’t really go very far at all. However, the ‘left idealists’ then go quite far in the opposite direction, and reject democratic accountability (as being unobtainable rather then unwanted) and instead argue for monitoring of the police as the only form of accountability possible (such groups as Inquest stem from their work). To me, although Inquest and other groups have produced interesting information, pulling back from the struggle to actually do anything to improve the lives of working people is a cardinal sin. Moreover, although the book is as I have mentioned in some respects very informative, it is based on an incorrect perception of the police and thus draws incorrect conclusions.

1 comment:

Charlie Marks said...

Indeed, it's not enough to just say that it is impossible to have a police force that is totally accountable to the public, we have to put forward reforms that would impel police forces to give account to local people in public while at the same time supporting the police if they campaign for union rights.