top of page

International Policing Tallinn

This lecture argues for strong police-community relations. It was given to the International Associations of Chiefs of Police at their European meeting in Tallinn, Estonia on April 27th 2009.

Speech by Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP to International Association of Chiefs of Police European Executive Policing Conference

Tallin, Estonia

Monday 27 April 2009


Strengthening the co-operation between police and security forces and the communities they serve

First I want to thank you for the opportunity of addressing this European Executive Policing Conference this morning. I believe that we are at an important time for the future of policing across our continent, a moment whose significance is reinforced by the elections to the European Parliament in early June. I am particularly pleased and honoured to be following the fascinating analysis by European Vive-President Siim Kallas of "Future Developments in the European Union".

I think that it will be common ground across police leaders of all backgrounds and from the whole continent that modern policing can only be effective when the police command the confidence of the people they serve, when police work closely with their communities to prevent and then detect crime, and when police work in a partnership way with other police and security agencies across the whole continent.

Of course the police in any country reflect the society and history of that country. Our countries are all different, with different histories and different police roles.

40 years ago, when I was a student, we campaigned for democracy in this continent, to remove the fascist or military dictatorship which then existed in Greece, Spain and Portugal, the totalitarian dictatorship which then ruled much of Eastern and Central Europe. Those campaigns succeeded and change has happened.

Indeed of the current 27 Member States of the European Union 13 have emerged from totalitarianism to democracy over this period. The transformation here in Estonia, a country which I know reasonably well, is a testament to that achievement. It is a magnificent accomplishment for which the European Union should take much credit and which we should continue to celebrate.

And of course over those years the nature of our societies has changed dramatically. It is true economically, socially and technologically. It has changed in the composition of our communities which vary across the Union.

And through that change with its difficulties it is our duty to promote a society which is based on the true respect of one individual for another, one culture for another, one faith for another, one race for another.

And we are duty bound to promote the view that democracy, and not violence, is the means of making change and governing ourselves.

And we have to defend our values of respect, tolerance, freedom, and democracy against any who wish to destroy or replace them with some other doctrine.

Policing is at the absolute centre of these issues, and will always come under scrutiny as such changes happen. Security forces face great challenges and their operational behaviour is amongst the most important determinants of the way societies develop.

In some cases the police and security services were presumed "rightly or wrongly" to be the means of oppression of one community by another. I'll mention some examples from my own country but I believe that they are shared across the continent.

In Northern Ireland many in the Catholic minority community saw the police "the Royal Ulster Constabulary" as the possession of the majority Protestant community. In some inner city communities in England the police were until recently seen by many in minority ethnic communities as a force alien to them and uninterested in their problems, including criminality in those communities.

The police were sometimes thought to be uninterested in the rights of minorities and were themselves seen as advocates of reactionary and authoritarian values.

It is not necessary to accept the truth of these descriptions - indeed I do not and some are simply caricature to acknowledge that high quality modern professional policing is at the centre of these processes of change.

The fundamental, core point is that in just about every community, rural or urban, whatever its ethnic and social composition, the police on the spot represent the reality of the state to that community. The values which the local policing transmits and express will reflect the values which the state embodies.

And I believe that the conduct and practice of the police needs to reflect the democratic, respectful and tolerant ambitions of the societies they serve.

And so I would like to take this opportunity to suggest a number of ways in which the police can work to place their contribution at the centre of this positive process of change. I turn first to the make-up and composition of the police and security forces and their command structures the people who are in reality the police.

The police need to reflect the communities they serve. Officers from every ethnic and social group should be found in the police, ideally in numbers broadly proportionate to the overall community. That should be true of superintendents and chiefs as well as of sergeants and constables. That breadth should also extend to women and all sections of the community.

Such a policy objective is difficult to achieve. In 1997 we started to do this in Britain but there is still a very long way to go.

It requires very strong professional leadership and you in this hall are at the core of this across our continent.

It requires political support with a policy programme and training programmes which make it a reality. Governments and institutions like the European Commission need to play an active role.

It requires confronting many traditional, even outdated, ways of working and replacing them with new alternatives.

There are plenty of examples of success in these fields and lots of creative thinking from which people can learn. But there is a lot of change which still has to take place if you believe, as I do, that the ambition of a representative police force is at the heart of the strong and constructive relationship between police and the communities they serve.

The second element which I would like to highlight is the need for the police in a highly pro-active way to build relationships of mutual trust and confidence with those communities they serve.

This is often very difficult. Some of the communities will be actively hostile to the police; some will deviate from the norms of local society; others will hide criminal behaviour; still more may well be politically aggressive.

But my view is that the job of the police is to form a decent and respectful working relationship with all of these communities. That will be done in different ways, whether through regular and formal meetings, informal dialogue, open debates or other means. In my opinion it is dangerous for both the police and the community if communication and discussion are inadequate.

Dialogue is a two-way process but I suggest it is an area where the police have to lead, engage and build strong mutual dependence.

Third, which may seem obvious, is that the police have to develop a strategy to prevent and fight crime which involves a wide range of partners. Stopping crime is not a matter for the police alone, it is for the whole community. The most successful legislation we ever had in Britain was the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

That Act required other statutory and non-statutory organisations to work together with the police. So schools had to help reduce crime by school students, social services had to consider crime prevention as they tried to help their clients, train companies had to work to prevent crime on trains, courts and probation had to target criminal behaviour and so on.

That led to an enormous range of anti-crime strategies which were conceived and carried out in partnership. It led to big reductions in car crime, in retail theft, in domestic violence and in many other areas. In Britain we still don't do enough but this attitude in my view remains central.

And an important part of this approach is the development of neighbourhood policing, so that every community knows that there is a named and identifiable team of officers who will meet and engage with every local community throughout the country and do their best to address the needs of that community.

And fourth and finally, perhaps obviously, the police need to detect and solve crimes in every community. And the criminal justice system needs to succeed in bringing criminals to justice. This is difficult but the most important thing to remember is that people want fair treatment. They know that not every crime will be solved but they need to know that the police act without fear or favour with the intent of bringing to justice all criminals in any community.

If that confidence is eroded, the position of the police force becomes untenable. For the police there can never be no-go areas of criminality, however powerful the criminals.

So those are my four injunctions to police action:

  • Work to achieve a police force which represents the community it serves;

  • Build strong relationships between the police and its community;

  • Establish your strategy to fight crime in partnership with others;

  • Solve crimes without fear or favour.

Some here may feel that this advice is so obvious as to be irrelevant. I maintain that it is not because I know that there are parts of the European Union, including the United Kingdom, where work still has to be done to make these ambitions a practical reality.

But I do want to turn finally to the European Union, where I believe that very many people across the continent are highly sceptical about the capacity of the European Union to contribute anything to fighting crime. That has been shown in some of the referenda about the European Union.

The reason for these doubts is that the European Union does not appear to give sufficient priority to fighting crime, a subject which is at the top of the list of concerns for most citizens.

I refer specifically to serious and organised crime, including drug-dealing and people trafficking; to illegal migration and false seeking of asylum; and to countering terrorism whatever its origins.

These issues top the political agenda across Europe, and they are often the most potent in mobilising political activity, often in a reactionary and even dangerous way. They can even be used by poisonous demagogues to undermine the very democracy which has in some cases so recently been created.

It is not difficult to see why these threats motivate anger. The threat from terrorism remains very real. Hundreds of thousands of women and children are trafficked in the EU every year. Thousands of people die each year from drug abuse. Illegal migration raises deep concerns in every city.

That is why I believe that crime and policing must move up the agenda of the European Union and I hope that the European Parliament elections will be a chance for that to happen.

The fact is that in our globalized world no single country can tackle these problems alone.

In a world with millions of international journeys and economic transactions every year ideas of "Splendid Isolation" or rhetoric in the British case about "the White Cliffs of Dover" can do nothing to address international criminality, terrorism or serious and organised crime or address patterns of international migration.

In each of these areas we will all, including within our own countries, achieve most by sharing experience, information and resources and by identifying, and then targeting, the threats systematically and consistently.

I make the apparently obvious point that these threats are best tackled internationally since there remain serious political parties (if the British Conservative party can be so described), and other sections of opinion within the European Union, which believe that protection from these types of threat can best be secured by the construction of higher and higher fences between us. The truth is the opposite that our best chances of success lie in yet deeper co-operation.

The best means of making a difference is through practical and pragmatic international collaboration on police and intelligence work.

There has already been action to address organised crime, terrorism and immigration and asylum at the levels of the European Union. Europol, Eurojust and the European Borders Agency have been established but their work needs to be strengthened.

I would in particular like to highlight the need for practical EU support for intelligence-led operations and cross-border prosecutions, the development of joint teams to combat drug-dealing and people-trafficking and the sharing of information to facilitate joint work.

Work needs to be intensified in the field of migration and asylum to make it more difficult still for illegal migration and people-trafficking to take place into the European Union, whether by land, sea or air.

And in all of this effective intelligence is essential if we are to target, track down, identify and convict the criminals who through terrorist violence and committing serious and organised crime threaten the security and strength of our society.

Criminals use the latest and best modern technology. They actively and consciously organise themselves to take advantage of any weaknesses the forces of law` enforcement have in contesting that.

And I am glad that this Conference will later be addressing our need to collect and use intelligence against the threats that we face. Throughout Europe public opinion needs to face up to the fact that the legal framework within which we currently operate makes the collection and use of this intelligence very difficult.

The effectiveness of the police in dismantling organised crime groups is directly dependent upon their ability to collect and analyse intelligence and information in order to target their efforts on the most dangerous criminals.

It means effective working partnerships between police and other security organisations within countries and between countries, where a great deal remains to be done.

It means establishing internationally consistent and coherent biometric data to be an automatic part of our visas, passports and identity cards where we have them.

It means agreeing and implementing with our international partners the best measures for consistent international use of passenger data.

These are all both important and difficult. They require action through the European and other international organisations.

And of course the risk that data may be misused or abused means that we need to ensure that there is a clear legal basis for the data protection and the exchange of information with appropriate safeguards.

Most of what I have had to say this morning is to express a view about the best way to strengthen the relationship between the polic and the communities they serve.

But I would like to conclude in our increasingly interdependent continent by urging candidates and political parties contesting the European elections to place European co-operation in fighting crime at the top of their agenda.

For too long Europe has given insufficient attention to what is the top priority for the people of the continent, which is to fight crime. That has to change and I hope that the European elections will be the moment where that happens.


Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page