One of the primary goals of the police is to protect citizens by promoting safety and trust. Cooperation between society and police service representatives is a core item in human interactions and development. However, today, controversies continue to grow and affect public support and perceptions of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Some failings cannot be ignored because people want to know if there is a moment to stop trusting the police legitimacy in London. The most provocative situations are connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on police powers and public awareness, the psychological outcomes of external threats on social cohesion, and the technological advancement of police services. Sarah Everard was murdered by Met police officer Wayne Couzens. Deniz Jaffer’s and Jamie Lewis’s misconduct due to sharing photos from the crime scene provokes negative attitudes among citizens. Continuous tensions between the police and protesters have been constantly discussed during the last year worldwide. This report examines the current situation in London and the quality of the relationships between the police and society and explains the worth of support and appropriate perceptions of individual decisions. The analysis of academic and media sources helps see that the pandemic, lack of technological intelligence, and a poor perception of legitimacy led to new controversies in the policing of London. Return to ethically appropriate standards, cooperation, and improved contact are the steps to address these questions and upgrade police-public relationships.
Population growth, new policies, and laws underline the importance of understanding the concept of legitimacy and its application in police work. There are many definitions and explanations of legitimacy, with one common thought that policing focuses on promoting legitimacy by any cost playing a vital role (Shannon, 2021). On the one hand, legitimacy is a right to use power underpinned by rules and social or legal norms and encourage distributive justice in relation to marginalised people (Shannon, 2021). On the other hand, when power remains in the same hands for a long period because of unpredictable conditions, legitimacy becomes a challenge for the police and society at the same time (Stott et al., 2021). In the criminal justice process, sentencing is offered to individuals who break the rule. The police are integral in investigating cases, searching for evidence, and explaining the guilt (Dhami, 2021). Still, today, police officers may abuse their power in horrific manners, causing the creation of new issues and debates concerning policing and the basics of the criminal justice system (Home Office and Patel, 2021). Legitimacy has many unpredictable characteristics, contributing to the rise of policing controversies.
Despite controlling all achievements and progress in social development, some situations are not always easy to predict and explain. One of such issues touches upon technological progress and its impact on human interactions, behavioral standards, and community regulations. For a long period, police representatives in England and Wales took multiple steps to enlarge confidence and trust among the general population (Hohl, Bradford and Stanko, 2010). Direct police communication and leaflets promotion brought back safety and protection from the MPS. With time, people used new technologies and completed their functions more safely and productively (Bradford et al., 2020). Instead of relying on technological advancement as a step for improvement, public trust and legitimacy turn out to be privacy concerns of unfair treatment (Bradford et al., 2020). The number of worries about crimes, the inability to stay private all the time, and the possibility of being publicly exposed raise additional questions about the stability, transparency, and legitimacy of the police service (Bradford et al., 2020; Collier et al., 2021; Wood and Thompson, 2020). Unintended consequences of technologies in policing increase social disagreements with the police in London.
Another significant change that could explain the recent controversies in UK policing is related to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity to protect populations from multiple perspectives. Although the police do not participate in creating the vaccine or the implementation of healthcare recommendations, their role should be mentioned and respected. According to Stott et al. (2021), policing during the pandemic was one of the major challenges to police legitimacy. Although it was wrong to break the idea of human rights and freedoms, it was necessary to prevent contagion at mass gatherings and control peaceful public assembly under the COVID-19 circumstances (Stott et al., 2021). For example, life facial recognition (LFR) provides a solid platform to reduce physical contact but uses captured personal data and database records (Bradford et al., 2020). However, people change their perception of the legitimacy of the MPS and re-consider the essence of police-public relations that diminish the public voice (Bradford et al., 2020). People need to deal with the pandemic challenges on their own, consider some isolation or vaccination obligations, and change their expectations from the police.
The quality of police services depends on many factors, including the impact of external threats. When people accept police legitimacy, they believe that the police are ready to take responsibility and prevent all problems. Many laws analyze and investigate deaths at the workplace or in hospitals and define them as negligence manslaughter or corporate killing (Tobs, 2017). When it is necessary to describe the role of the police and the extent to which legal power can be used, one appropriate regulation is hard to find. Terrorist incidents affect residents’ security despite the obligation to obey the law and cooperate with the MPS (Fenn and Brunton-Smith, 2020). More studies are developed to learn the police behavior outside their departments and the moment when cooperation with citizens emerges. In addition to the primary perception of the police as the source of trust and safety, Perry (2020) revealed some police actions that hamper compliance and incite negative attitudes. Williams and Paterson (2020) mentioned the impact of westernization and the promotion of social inequality that affects police services. The level of external influence determines modern perceptions of legitimacy in the UK.
Many researchers, politicians, and psychologists are interested in ways how to improve the UK population’s perceptions of the quality of services and the MSP in general. A decade ago, Myhill and Bradford (2012) offered a survey to understand how to implement positive changes and concluded that fairness, dignity, and respect should be the main elements of police treatment. Today, recognising these concepts is not enough, and citizens want to know how the police manage all their dirty work and why some information stays confidential while other facts can be found online (Perry, 2020). The questions of privacy, access to personal information, and confidentiality are open for discussion in UK society.
Findings and Discussion
In addition to the already offered literature review that proves the importance of the perceptions of legitimacy, it is critical to focus on recent media reports. Not many academic sources describe the events that challenge the UK population. The Guardian is one of the modern magazines that shed light on the latest news. Dodd (2021a, 2021b) highlighted the effects of Met’s failings on public confidence in the UK. When the photos of murdered sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were shared online by the two Met police officers, many questions about trust and respect for privacy were raised (Dodd, 2021a). Such decisions cause additional controversies about what police officers are allowed and prohibited to do with evidence. This case contradicts the postulates offered by Myhill and Bradford (2012) about dignity and respect between the police and society. When a person, relying on available power and rights, uses technology to intrude into the private life of individuals and use public spaces for these purposes, the misuse of power should be proved (Bradford et al., 2020). The officers were accused of using degrading and sexist language that was unprofessional and disrespectful.
Another critical case that calls the Met’s reputation into question is the assault and murder of Sarah Everard. Officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped, and killed a 33-year-old woman (Dodd, 2021b). Although the crime was investigated, the guilt was proved, and the sentence was life imprisonment, the citizens of London are still terrified about the threats from police officers. It was obligatory to analyze the case from all sides and understand what should be done to promote change within policing (Home Office and Patel, 2021). Today, some women report that they are afraid of plainclothes police officers (Dodd, 2021b). Therefore, multiple decisions and recommendations are offered to the MPS, like not supporting single shifts but wearing a uniform. According to Dhamy (2021), there are some laws that diminish the level of punishment with respect to the number of crimes, but the punishment should be proportionate to the offense. Regarding the nature of current crimes and the participation of police officers, the MPS needs more legitimacy-related policies to distinguish the profession and associated obligations.
There are many reasonable and unreasonable controversies that involve the representatives of the MPS, but the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic are significant. Stott et al. (2021) proved that this public health situation has already created a number of complex and rapidly evolving policing changes and obligations. Emergency legislation and centralized decision-making are the outcomes of isolation and the necessity to control human actions and gatherings (Stott et al., 2021). The population is not ready to accept all the rules and laws that are proposed under the impact of the pandemic, and, in 2021, “kill the bill” protests were organized against the police and crime bills (Davies and Gayle, 2022). Some politicians and many local citizens believe that most police powers are misplaced today, and the government should support people in their desire to live in a free and safe world (Davies and Gayle, 2022). New bills will allow police officers to control traffic and stop cars to search people without suspicion. Regarding the already described negative experiences of power misuse, the perceptions of legitimacy have been damaged.
To strengthen the discussion of the COVID-19 impact and the growth of public protests, one should learn the goals people want to pursue in their decisions. For example, on the basis of the murders of Henry, Smallman, and Everard, the number of open missing people reports has increased up to 16 in London, and almost 50% of these cases were during the pandemic (Dodd, 2021b). Between June 2020 and May 2021, the police solved about 39,300 cases of missing people (Dodd, 2021b). Still, people do not want to consider the already made achievements but focus on what the police have not done and try to find their guilt in passiveness or lack of interest. In their turn, the police are bothered about their job security and the possibility of career progression because concerns in policing prevent them from taking risks and increase a sense of fear (Shannon, 2020). In other words, cooperation between ordinary citizens and police officers is minimal, and most controversies and questions about the appropriateness of legitimacy can be explained as the absence of communication.
People want to live in a world where safety, trust, responsibility, and respect are properly explained and enhanced. In police work, these concepts are integral as they define the quality of services and public expectations. Instead of accepting social media and technological advancement as penetration into personal life, it is better to see these steps to improve awareness and raise intelligence (Bradford et al., 2020; Wood and Thompson, 2020). Today, the police have many chances to improve public confidence and promote new positive perceptions of the MPS. Firstly, it is necessary to remember the lessons by Myhill and Bradford (2012) and enhance trust as a part of police legitimacy. Secondly, deviant subcultures should not only be treated as the forces of alienation but as the sources of motivation and inspiration in criminal careers (Collier et al., 2021). Finally, the police should respect and be respected by the citizens completing their functions, discussing their purposes, and recognise their responsibilities as security promoters and ordinary citizens. People need to stop fearing police officers and their powers and treat them as individuals who are truly devoted to their professions under any conditions.
At this moment, the situation in the MPS is not as successful and promising as it could be. Researchers and journalists offer a variety of ideas about recent controversies and the inability to promote positive perceptions of legitimacy only. There were many cases when London police officers neglected or exceeded their powers and responsibilities, decreasing the level of public trust. The murders of innocent people, the exchange of private information with disruptive consequences, and unreasonable or poorly explained laws and rules affect the community. It is expected that the citizens know what to expect from the police and how safety and quality of services are promoted. However, today, more questions occur about the use of technologies, the necessity to follow ethical standards, and the obligation to support and protect. The Met’s failures have already been recognized globally, and it is time to think about how to change the situation and strengthen police-public relationships. Sometimes, it is better to look back at already-made achievements and discoveries. Despite their negative attitudes toward the police, people need this organization to be on their side.
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Collier, B. et al. (2021) ‘Cybercrime is (often) boring: Infrastructure and alienation in a deviant subculture’, The British Journal of Criminology, 61(5): 1407-1423.
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Dodd, V. (2021a), ‘Met police officers plead guilty over photos taken at scene of sisters’ deaths’, The Guardian, Web.
Dodd, V. (2021b), ‘Met’s failings have ripple effect across UK on confidence in policing’, The Guardian, Web.
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