Policing By Consent.
By Duncan Heenan
Late last year, Police Authorities were replaced by elected Police & Crime Commissioners (‘PCCs’), who now provide the political oversight of local constabularies throughout the country. During the election process I wrote to each of the candidates in this area (Hampshire and the Isle of Wight) asking what their policy in ‘policing’ of nudity issues might be. Candidate Simon Hayes responded, admitting it was something he had little experience of, but was willing to discuss if elected. He was elected, and in May he made good his promise by meeting me, together with Hampshire naturists Tim Forcer and Glen & Cyndi Freyer. He also included a senior police officer in the meeting, to be thorough.
To help him understand why we were meeting, we sent a short briefing note in advance (copy in “Comments” on this post, below ). We explained that, though non-sexual, non-aggressive nudity in public places is legal, it is often treated by the police as if it is not. We felt that this arose from a sort of ‘institutional prudery’, which led to undue priority being given to any incident or complaint involving nudity. As well as causing considerable upset to innocent naturists on the receiving end of the police’s attention, in our opinion this represented a waste of public money for no benefit to society.
We were not making demands, simply making him aware of our views, and asking him to consider them. Fortunately (for us!) we did not have many such incidents in our area to present as evidence, as most of the incidents we know of have happened in other areas. All PCCs only have authority within their own area, but Mr Hayes was keen to know how other constabularies approached the issues we raised, so he could see how they might differ from his own area’s approach. This led to a discussion of the inconsistencies we had observed between constabularies, and the fact that there seemed to be no national mechanism to address this currently. It was a thoroughly professional discussion, but relaxed and good natured.
We came away feeling we had received a fair hearing, which was all we had asked for. The job of the PCC isn’t to manage operational policing, but to keep those who both protect and regulate our freedom doing so ultimately ‘by consent’, through the democratic process. If you like, they are our word in the police’s ear. It is early days in the existence of PCCs, so we don’t know how it will work out, but now at least concerned naturists have someone to talk to. If your PCC won’t talk to you, don’t re-elect them. We received a good reception, and so should you. To meet your PCC, all you have to do is to write to them asking for a meeting and letting them know in a few words why. They are busy people, so you may have to be patient; and don’t expect to come away with instant agreement. Changing attitudes takes time, but if you don’t put in any effort, attitudes won’t change. But seemingly fixed attitudes can change. For example, as I said in the meeting, my police officer father used to arrest people for homosexuality because it was illegal then; now there is a Gay Police Association! So why not give it a go, and let the naturist community know the outcome. It’s good to talk.