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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 19:41 GMT
Police seen as 'social guardians'
Rory MacLean
By Rory MacLean
BBC home affairs correspondent

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair believes he and the other chief constables are now in charge of public bodies that are expected to be everything from social services to special forces.

Sir Ian argued in his Dimbleby lecture that there was a very particular reason for this. The decline in other forms of social authority. The loss of influence by the church, trade unions and voluntary clubs.

This he couples with the disappearance of what he describes as "agents of social enforcement" such as park keepers, caretakers and bus conductors.

The result is that the police are now the centre of attention and Sir Ian is arguing that there needs to be a more mature debate about their role and how society intends to cope with problems ranging from binge drinking to suicide bombing.

He has been critical of both politicians and the media for being obsessed with police numbers as the core of the crime debate.

Public opinion

He clearly wants to pre-empt any future version of the rows that have dominated the police recently.

The first is over Operation Kratos, the shoot to kill policy which led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station in July.

The second is over the alleged politicisation of the police. This claim was based on police lobbying to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge in the run up to the parliamentary vote on the issue.

Senior officers have made it clear that they were livid at what they regarded as perfectly normal police advice being regarded as political lobbying.

Sir Ian says that the citizens of Britain now have to say what kind of police service they want.

However, if he has genuine anxieties about the public view of the way the police have handled terrorism since 7 July he can take comfort from a poll claiming that even with the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, 77% of Londoners were satisfied with the way the police responded.

In the area of neighbourhood policing his emphasis on beat officers is likely to play well. Research shows 71% of the public said local uniformed officers made them feel safer.

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