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Rax interview with Sir Hugh Orde

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them. 

Rax Citizenship Book Cover

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Sir Hugh joined the London Metropolitan Police in 1977. After a long and successful career, he was appointed President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2009. The Rax team caught up with Sir Hugh in March 2010.

What role do you take as a citizen of the UK?
To be a citizen of the UK is to be part of a society of unique character, which has grown up over centuries. In policing, the tradition holds that the police should differ as little as possible from ordinary citizens, and that what powers the police do have over others should be based only on the active co-operation of citizens. That is an important starting point: everyone plays a part in creating the kind of society we would like to live in, not just the police.

Portrait of Sir Hugh Orde

What are the issues that you personally believe are most important for young citizens to address in order to ensure a happy, safe and positive environment for the future?
We have seen huge changes in society in recent years, many of them based around our world ‘getting smaller’ as people, money and information all travel around across international borders in a way never seen before. Those changes create new challenges. One thing vital to the police service is to find ways to preserve a sense of local community so that people can feel safe and secure where they live.

How does the UK police force endeavour to make a positive connection with young people today and what can young people do to create a positive connection too?
Young people today are often given a bad reputation, but the reality is that just 6% are serious or persistent offenders. Neighbourhood policing teams have gone a long way to building connections with young people, alongside work with schools. But the first interaction the police have with a young person will still often be after they have committed a crime, when we need to try and avoid them getting into trouble in the first place. Young people should not feel intimidated standing up for what they believe in.

In the textbook, we draw attention to campaigns in history such as the Suffragettes as well as present campaigns such as Greenpeace who have used non-violent direct action as part of their strategy. What are your views on campaign groups that use non-violent direct action?
Balancing the rights of protestors with those of others to go about their business unaffected can place the police in a difficult position, where it has to strike a balance between upholding the law and acting proportionately. But exercising the right to protest is a fundamental part of our society and one the police service should always protect. The protest at the G20 in London in 2009 – where the world’s leaders met to discuss global issues – has led to a reappraisal of policing which is welcome. By and large though, many thousands of protests take place daily in our country without incident.

What are the main priorities for the policing of protests?
The job of the police is to keep the peace. Good communication makes that task much easier and has to be a priority – where the police can talk to those protesting and know what to expect then it is far easier to police in a fair and proportionate way. Ultimately we want to protect the public from harm while allowing maximum freedom to all.

From a police officer's point of view, what is the policing of protests like?
At the extreme end, it can be difficult. Police officers are first and foremost human beings, but no matter what provocation offered their standards of behaviour must be beyond reproach. Those officers who cross the line must be dealt with, but the majority who don’t, deserve our support. And we have to remember that the extreme end is not the norm: each year many thousands of people choose to protest and the overwhelming majority are peaceful and lawful. 

What would be your three top tips to young active citizens seeking to take informed and responsible action to bring about positive change either in their community, nationally or globally?
My first would be not to underestimate your influence: when it comes to stopping youth crime, for instance, we know that young people listen to their peers more than anyone else. Second, on community issues particularly I would encourage young people to talk to the police: we want to hear from you and very often in fact we can only tackle issues together with you. Finally, go for it! The kind of society I want to live in is where people speak out for what they believe in and take a stand against crime and anti-social behaviour.

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