London (dpa) – Stronger electronic surveillance and more powers for the police: The Conservative British government wants to keep tabs on criminals and prevent crimes with stricter laws.
Some sort of public pillory is planned. Those released on probation must do unpaid charitable work — removing graffiti, collecting trash, cleaning sewers — and wearing a safety vest. “The aim is to make the price of crime visible,” The Guardian newspaper quoted an Home Office source as saying.
Opposition and civil rights activists, as well as police representatives, have criticized the measures as discriminatory, populist and inappropriate. But Interior Minister Priti Patel, who likes to pose as a hardliner, sees himself very close to the population. “The public wants justice to be done and criminals to pay the price for their crimes,” Patel wrote in the Daily Mail (Tuesday). “She wants thugs to give back to society what they got in her with their thoughtless actions.”
The police must also become more visible, for example through specific contact persons. Patel stressed that people wanted to know who their local “Bobby” is. In addition, it will be easier for officials to arrest and check suspects on the street in the future. This is mainly aimed at knife violence, which is common among young people. With the revival of this controversial “stop and search” strategy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is breaking with the policies of his predecessor Theresa May. The also conservative politician had severely curtailed the rules because they were discriminatory.
Johnson’s government defends the project: it’s about prevention. In this sense, other planned measures should also be understood. The use of GPS trackers for released thieves, burglars and robbers is being expanded. “Sobriety sensors” that detect alcohol in the sweat should also be tested across the board — for people who have committed alcohol crimes. Detainees would be routinely tested for drugs.
According to commentators, Johnson wants to re-occupy a core Conservative field with a focus on crime-fighting, where the opposition Labor party has been rallying lately. The approach is in line with the hard line that Minister Patel of the Interior has been pursuing in the field of migration since Brexit. Here too, the security services have been given more powers and are allowed to stop boats carrying refugees and migrants in the English Channel.
But in his fight against crime, Johnson is blowing a sharp wind in the face. The extension of discriminatory powers is not the way to go, Emmanuelle Andrews of civil rights organization Liberty told The Guardian. “It will expose more young people to coercion, punishment and control.” As Johnson also wants to extend the powers of police officers during demonstrations, there have been repeated riots and violence against police officers in recent months. Violence may now flare up again, it is feared.
Johnson also has many police officers against him, partly because his conservatives cut more than 20,000 jobs after taking office in 2010. And just a few days ago, the government frozen most civil servants’ salaries due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents 130,000 police officers, withdrew the confidence of Home Secretary Patel. Now union leader John Apter said there is no need for old ideas in a new guise, but for sustainable reforms and real investment. The officials have had enough of ‘the government’s contempt for the police’.