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November 26, 2013

Lord Stevens calls for action to reverse police retreat away from openness with journalists

By Dominic Ponsford

A review of policing led by former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens has called for nationwide action to reverse what he described as a retreat from police forces dealing openly with the media.

The Independent Police Commission report was funded by the Labour Party and comes in the wake of recommendations to restrict police contact with journalists following publication of the Leveson Report a year ago. Since then police forces have urged officers to record all contact with journalists and warned officers against having drinks with journalists.

This year the Crime Reporters Association scrapped its annual Christmas drinks evening with senior officers because of a boycott of the event by police last year.

The Policing for a Better Britain report states: "It is vitally important that the police have, as far as possible, an open and transparent relationship with the media and there is evidence that the police have retreated from this in recent times.

"The media is essential for informing the public about the work of the police and the consequences of the police not engaging with the media can cause serious problems with ensuring public confidence."

Stevens said that in 2000 he established a new policy at the Met for dealing with the media which warned that “cautiousness can breed contempt while an open approach tends to breed confidence and respect”.

He said at the time: “I want to see Metropolitan Police officers and civil staff representing the service through the media, speaking up about their achievements, correcting inaccuracies and just as importantly, explaining why things may not have gone as we would have liked.”

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He warned that the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners had changed the dynamics of the way police interact with the media. He said it had helped create a “vacuum where senior police officers no longer feel able to engage with the media and lead debates on the future of policing. The situation is wholly unsatisfactory and away forward must be agreed.”

Stevens calls in his report for the creation of a system of “chartered police officers” as the basis for the police profession – with all officers registering with the College of Policing.

He calls for a public register of “chartered practitioners” and “the presumption should be for total transparency –with open, public hearings for decisions on serious misconduct rather than the muddled regime of partially open hearings and judgements which currently prevails.”

He said the relationship between police and the media must be improved based on “new media guidelines which re-build trust and confidence and encourage, not restrict, two-way openness and contact.”

He also called for “streamlined minimal requirements to record but restrict contact with journalists”.

Download the Policing for a Better Britain report here.

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