One of New Labour's achievements has been the introduction of Citizenship Education in schools. But do we need to make sure that better citizenship education is included in the kind of training received by various professions, such as the police?
Consider the recent evidence. The police have been paying individuals to act as informants inside environmental campaign groups. The aim seems to be to get enough inside information to know what environmental protests are planned so that the police can take action to prevent them if they are unlawful. Only a couple of weeks ago, the police preemptively arrested 114 environmental protestors prior to a planned protest. The protestors were released the following day, but often with bail conditions which prohibited them from going near any power stations. And, of course, there is the aggressive kettling of the April 1 G20 protests, including the overwhelmingly peaceful Climate Camp at Bishopsgate.
Increasingly, it seems, the police see their job as preventing any environmental protest with an unlawful, civil disobedient, but peaceful element. Where this is not feasible, as with the Climate Camp at Bishopsgate, their policy has been one of disproportionate containment.
However, as I pointed out in an earlier post, non-violent civil disobedience has a legitimate, indeed important, role to play in a democratic society. So if the police philosophy is one of simply preventing such action, the police are setting themselves against an activity which is, as said, legitimate and important in a healthy democracy.
How far do the police understand this? How far do police officers - particularly those responsible for making police policy - grasp the legitimate and important role that civil disobedient protest has in a democratic society?
How far does the kind of training which the police get equip them to understand such issues?
Given their recent actions, I am not at all confident that the police do understand the place of civil disobedient protest in a democratic society. If so, then this is a matter of grave concern. It means that, in one important respect, our police force is not competent to carry out the job of policing in a democratic society.
And how are we to address that problem, if not, in part, by demanding a review of police training so that it includes better education in the basic principles of democratic citizenship?