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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 12:33 GMT
From truncheons to body cameras
Dixon of Dock Green and two officers on patrol

Body cameras and business cards are the way forward for a modern police force, says a major report. The year-long review has put frontline police methods back in the spotlight. How did we get from Dixon of Dock Green to this?

Bobbies on the beat with hand-held computers and business cards, evidence recorded on body cameras to replace statements. It's the vision of modern policing from Home Office policing adviser Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

According to the former chief constable of Northern Ireland, his recommendations will cut bureaucracy and get more police on the streets.

The report has been published on the day the BBC's Life on Mars spin-off, Ashes to Ashes, puts the spotlight on policing in the 1980s. So how has frontline policing changed over the years?


John O'Connor, 64, joined the service in 1963 and was on the beat in the Paddington area of London.

John O'Connor
We were strictly supervised by section sergeants
John O'Connor
"We didn't have radios or any communication other than the police call boxes and the police posts, which were just a phone with a flashing light if you were required. There was one for two beats. There were no personal radios, so we were virtually out on our own.

"We were strictly supervised by section sergeants who made sure you were working your beat."

The uniform included a heavy coat, a Dickensian-style cape and a helmet - "not very practical" - and officers were equipped with a torch and a truncheon - handy when dealing with all the stabbings and drunken violence in that part of London.

Officers were heavily pushed for results, he says, so if your beat had high car theft you were expected to do something about it, with the help of CID.

Anti Vietnam War protest outside the US embassy in London, 1968
Protests flourished in the late 60s
But discipline was strict and popping into a cafe for a cup of tea was forbidden. It took Mr O'Connor a mere 20 minutes on his first day to find out just how strict things were.

"The very first thing in my pocket book was a caution for being off my beat. I was in the coffee stall where everyone was having a meat pie and a cup of tea."

Professor Tim Newburn, director of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics, thinks the 1960s was the decade when the modern police force began to take shape.

"There was the 1960 Royal Commission on the Police, which led to the 1964 Police Act. Before this there were far more police forces and authorities, but the act brought organisation and coherence to the force.

"It also put in place a structure for holding the police to account.

"It was also the decade when police cars started to be more widely used, which took officers off the beat."


Clint Elliott, of the National Association of Retired Police Officers, was on the front line in Middlesbrough in the 1970s, when he says police were able to use their discretion far more than today.

Life on Mars
Arrests were less complicated
"You would have the ability to go and deal with a crowd and people who were drunk, and you would be just as happy to get people home without a problem.

"You were probably better off to make them go home, particularly if they were Mr and Mrs Average, but now there's an inclination to arrest people so they can tick a box for 'sanctional detections'."

It was difficult to recruit and retain officers, he says, but the most striking difference was in bureaucracy. In the 1970s, you could get a shoplifter arrested and charged within two hours, but now it could take that long just to get them through the custody suite.

When making an arrest, there were still forms to fill in - an officer had to take a description and photograph and fingerprint the suspect - but putting a file together was far less complicated than today.

Although the uniforms were uncomfortable, says Mr Elliott, at least they made police officers distinctive. The fluorescent jackets and the jumpers evident these days have made police less recognisable.

Armed police in 1975's Balcombe St seige
Policing became more energetic
And some things never change. "There was massive dissatisfaction in the mid to late 70s about pay. The government tried to impose a pay award and there were calls to strike."

The 1970s saw some major changes to British policing, says Professor Newburn.

"There was a move away from community beat-based policing and the force became more reactive. It was all about flashing blue lights and rushing to crime scenes.

"Even on the television you went from Dixon of Dock Green to The Sweeney. There was also more emphasis on detection and CID became more important."


Peter Bleksley, a policeman for more than two decades, joined as a cadet in 1977, and became an officer in Peckham in 1978 before helping tackle the riots in Brixton in 1981.

"It was mainly white, lower middle-class [officers]. Racism was compulsory. There was rampant racism among certain sections of the police. Peckham had then what was then regarded as a large immigrant population, many from the West Indies."

The use of the "sus" law was a characteristic of the time. This allowed police to stop and search anybody on suspicion of a crime.

Two major events changed policing forever. Lord Scarman's 1981 report on the Brixton riots and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 that followed its recommendations. Interviews had to be recorded and much of the way officers operated was overhauled.

Bleksley said this hampered certain malpractices like "verballing" - falsely attributing words and confessions.

There was lots of paperwork in the 1980s, but no Crown Prosecution Service, so some officers became very polished advocates.

Another change was the Edmund-Davies report of 1979 which nearly doubled pay for some officers in the early 1980s and helped recruitment.

Police clash with striking miners in 1984
Clashes with the miners led to changes
"It's a decade when the police became more remote from the public, they were usually in cars and not on the beat," says Professor Newburn.

"They also became more heavily equipped, off the back of major incidents like the Brixton riots and the miners strike. Both resulted in the paramilitarisation of public order policing.

"In the 70s you would see officers with just their truncheon and a dustbin lid trying to control crowds. By the end of the 80s they had helmets, riot shields - they were tooled up."


Vic Codling, who served with Durham, Northumbria and the Met before retiring in 2003, said the 1990s were a time of change.

At the Admiral Duncan bombing in 1999
Policing became more business-like
Instead of just writing up notes from an arrest when it was convenient, an officer would have to write things up immediately after returning to the station and then get them time-stamped.

"The police became far more accountable, extremely focused on issues of racism after the Stephen Lawrence case. It generated massive workloads recording stops and searches.

"Because of that [the Macpherson report] they became more transparent."

But as well as the extra forms for stops there were increased targets and both could lead officers to skew their work, either stopping only white people on some patrols or not filling in paperwork at all.

There was a strong sense that this was a force under pressure
Professor Newburn
There was a transition between the police functioning like a force or army in the 1970s and 1980s to becoming a "service" in the 1990s focusing on the customer, he says.

A drive to have more community policing has been a constant of the last decade, Mr Codling said. It went from "community beat officers" to "unit beat policing" to "sector policing" over various decades.

The uniform became more sophisticated, with stab vests, extendable truncheons and CS spray all making a debut, but Mr Codling thinks this made the force look more like the military and less accessible.

Policing became more efficient and business-like, about targets and financial management, says Professor Newburn, while rising crime and Macpherson put the force under pressure.


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