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Friday, November 11, 2005

Police in conflict of interest?

In the wake of Tony Blair's defeat in the House of Commons and failure to pass legislation allowing imprisonment of terrorists for 90 days without charge, the Tories have accused police of lobbying MPs in favour of the legislation. The Tories suggest the politicization of police. Police seeking extension of powers is nothing new. They always have - prior to current counter-terrorism measures.

Australian Federal Police have been accused of a conflict of interest because - apart from expected operational implementation of policy, to which the AFP always gives emphasis - they also are represented on policy bodies as decision-makers. So the AFP, in some areas, not only has an executive role put a policy role. I have seen no suggestion that this has resulted in politicization of the AFP but it has called into question relationships within Indonesia where there is policy co-operation in areas of mutual interst at one level and assistance in criminal investigation in another. This has come to the fore in matters affecting the Bali Nine.

A nation must always be alert to the powers and roles it gives police forces within its borders. The priority of police forces (or services as they are sometimes called) is to serve the public. Police, therefore, should be given sufficient - and only sufficient - powers that enable them to serve the public and allow it freedom to build a community, an economy, and a just society. When police become involved in decision-making warning bells need to sound. Police roles must remain executive. When police roles move to policy they risk becoming political.