Joseph McNamara

British Police Hobbled by Their Own Prejudice

The current violent riots in England remind me of my experiences in American policing, as well as those with the English police. As a police veteran of many riots, I applaud the strong condemnation in England by police and political leaders of those criminals destroying the neighborhoods of the very people they claim to represent. To be effective, however, the condemnation of thugs and violence must come from the minority community itself. But denunciation of criminal violence will not come until neighborhood leaders are convinced that political and police leaders are committed to equal treatment.

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In the late 1980s, I was forced to take extended medical leave from my job as police chief of San Jose, California. I was bored out of my mind and jumped to take the opportunity to serve without pay as a visiting professor at Bramshill Police College, located 30 miles southwest of London. Every officer hoping to rise in rank from within England’s 56 county police forces was obliged to successfully complete courses at Bramshill. During my long career in American policing, the British bobby had been frequently held up as the model of professionalism and the example for policing free from prejudice, so I greatly looked forward to the opportunity to observe and learn.

While serving three months in England, I found many of the good things that I had expected, but there were some nasty surprises. The English spirit of maintaining a stiff upper lip and traditions of patriotism which had enabled this tiny island to establish a farflung empire upon which the sun never set, came with a highly discriminatory class system which greatly exacerbated racial divides.

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(photo credit: Chris JL)

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