British police find themselves under scrutiny

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The police and their role in British life are entering a period of intense scrutiny as the full implications of rioting in English cities earlier this year sink into the public mind.

With the long-awaited Scarman Report into the violence, due for publication later this month, the police themselves are already preparing to respond to demands that they should become more accountable to the communities they serve.

Lord Scarman, one of the country's most respected senior judges, is expected to recommend extensive changes in police training, special studies of relations between the police and ethnic minorities, and an independent element in arrangements for investigating complaints of the police.

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The Police Federation, which is a kind of trade union for Britain's men and women in blue, has switched its policy on complaints against its men and women.

For many years the federation insisted that the police should make their own investigations of allegations of improper behavior. But the Scarman findings are expected to carry such moral force that the federation has made a complete turn. It now says it would welcome independent inquiries into police conduct.

At the same time, also in anticipation of what Scarman will say, officers at the Hendon Police Training College near London have begun to introduce changes in the teaching curriculum for young police officers. The emphasis will move to community relations and the special needs of ethnic groups.

After rioting in the London district of Brixton, where pitched battles between black youths and police continued for several days, Lord Scarman was asked by the government to undertake a major inquiry.

When the rioting spread to other centers, including Liverpool, Scarman extended his survey. His report, already in the hands of the government, is said to be comprehensive, outspoken, and radical.

One British government official predicted that it would prompt a lengthy period of public debate. The Labour Party opposition have decided to demand debating time in Parliament to consider Scarman's leading recommendations.

At the heart of the report, according to insiders, is a conviction that police and public, particularly in inner city areas, are too often against each other.

Scarman himself, who went out into the streets of Brixton and Liverpool to see conditions for himself, appears to have concluded that unemployment among ethnic minorities was a prime factor explaining the violence. But so was a ''them and us'' relationship between police and black communities.

As the government prepared to release the Scarman Report, a wide-ranging public opinion poll showed that public confidence in the police in Britain is beginning to erode, especially among young people.

A quarter of those questioned said their confidence in the police had decreased. Among young people the figure was almost twice as high.

When asked about the qualities associated with police officers, less than one-third said honesty and less than half thought officers were fair.

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