By John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder, and caseworker
We’ve been fairly quiet over the past few months with this blog and I think it’s fair to say we’ve been very busy so apologies for the radio silence. If you follow us on Twitter or any of our other social channels you should be able to keep track of what’s grinding our gears when it comes to local and national policing on a daily basis and if you frequent our site I hope you like the new Bristol Copwatch Allies and Community support pages!
Since April we’ve seen a significant surge in the number of people in the community who need our support and at points, it can feel like we’re fire fighting so we’ve begun some internal discussions on how we can tackle the issues we’re seeing on a daily and weekly basis more effectively. We’ve developed our understanding of Avon and Somerset Police and suspect the vindictive nature we’ve encountered on several occasions now is a deeply rooted institutional problem.
It goes way beyond misconduct and falls more in line with historic accounts of policing vendettas that came to light once again in February of this year. Despite the condemnations of the police with the clearly prepared “We’re not like that anymore!” response we know this is a falsehood, but what’s most concerning is, is that such incidents are turned a blind eye to.
The same rule of thumb it seems applies to neighbourhood harassment and victimisation of anyone who is a person of colour or is seen to be “different” from the harassers and therefore a viable target. The police either outright ignore any reports they receive or side with the abusers. Making a complaint about misconduct can result in targeting by the police and very rarely are complaints ever upheld.
In this county and we know from our national monitoring work it’s the same wherever you go if you take action against the police you can risk becoming a target for them, however, it is absolutely essential that we do not let police harassment and intimidation tactics scare us away from our fights for justice.
As the government unleashes yet more draconian and autocratic laws and legislation that provide the police with even less accountability and even more power fighting for your rights should become second nature to all of us. The recent article in the Bristol Cable about an autistic woman who has successfully sued the police caught my attention this week.
It caught my attention because her story is so very similar to my own current fight for justice and it reminded me that what has happened to both of us are not cases that exist in isolation. Avon and Somerset Police’s data protection practices are quite frankly scandalous and the staff that action malicious, inaccurate, unfair, and unlawful entries are behaving quite ironically like criminals.
If Chief Constable Sarah Crew wants to build a new community-focused, anti-racist holistic police force then she must and without delay put her house in order and take a harder stance on police misconduct. Former Chief Constable Andy Marsh claimed that “rogue” police are “hard to force out” I personally think it must be a challenging job when you’re down the pub with them every other week but let’s be honest here, it speaks volumes about the culture of silence and complete lack of accountability that is so prevalent in policing.
So how can we fight for change and is it even worth holding the police to account? you may wonder. As I said earlier it is absolutely essential we fight for our rights at present. The levels of misconduct we have witnessed over the past few months as bystanders on the street and as volunteer caseworkers should never be unchallenged.
It has been particularly hard for me at points due to my own journey through the criminal justice system and stop and search to put my personal views on policing to one side when supporting others but I’m stronger every day I help someone take action. Some would say I’m very much an “us and them” kind of guy, but some would say that there is a lot of good the police do just like some feel stop and search is necessary and vital police power.
I respect those views just as I stand in solidarity with any family who has ever lost a loved one to serious violence. The fundamental issue with policing from my point of view alone is that until strategy changes at the very top as to the way we are policed then nothing will change. Until deeply rooted institutional racism and prejudice change then nothing will change and from where I’m standing right now the future looks depressingly bleak. As sociologist Alex Vitale would say the problem is policing itself.
As a community-focused and fiercely independent police monitoring organisation we make a point of engaging at the street level with local communities to understand the issues they are facing. The media-friendly Avon and Somerset Police are adept at ignoring the issues we try to help fix on a regular basis. Only by ownership and accountability will Chief Constable Sarah Crew and Avon and Somerset Police begin to heal divides that it alone has created. The police have never protected me and in July of 2022, it’s safe to say they don’t protect us.