ACPO: We're Private, You're Public?
February 18, 2009 2:59 PM   Subscribe

What is the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)? It is a private company, financed by UK taxpayers, immune from freedom of information requests. It dictates police operations and sells police national computer data. It may also be engaged in covert domestic surveillance of what it deems as extremists: antiwar protesters, strikers, and others. According to an ACPO spokesperson ""there doesn't seem to be a single, commonly agreed definition."
posted by terranova (22 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Something is going badly wrong in this country.
posted by WPW at 3:47 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

That's a pretty cute little end-run around laws designed to provide oversight and societal control of the police forces. In an ideal world, once discovered, this sort of thing would be broken up and its organizers and leaders jailed for very long terms, but the trend in recent years has been away from accountability for police forces.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:54 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

"there doesn't seem to be a single, commonly agreed definition."

here's one : A group of power hungry fucktards.
posted by mannequito at 4:14 PM on February 18, 2009

I swear there are people in UK government bodies who have watched V for Vendetta or read 1984 and thought of the versions of Britain portrayed in them as utopias...
(caveat: this is an across the pond notion, I have never lived in the UK)
posted by oonh at 4:28 PM on February 18, 2009

The ACPO does not so much run the Home Office as selectively give them political cover. It sometimes seems like a quasi-lobby group.
posted by jaduncan at 4:59 PM on February 18, 2009

Something is going badly wrong in this country.
The secret state's been at this for years; the plot against Wilson, Northern Ireland, collusion with employers to blacklist union militants through the Economic League and so on, if half what I've read is true. Not sure where the new agency fits in with Special Branch - they've not gone away have they? See also the aptly-named FIT.
posted by Abiezer at 8:06 PM on February 18, 2009

Man the news out of the U.K with respect to it's burgeoning police state sure is depressing, of course the U.S. is hardly an better.

If you ask me civil libertarians need better marketing. It should be clear to everyone now that privacy is just not a concern for most people, so how do you go about turning it into one?
posted by delmoi at 9:08 PM on February 18, 2009

Abiezer: The secret state's been at this for years;

I know, but there just seems to be a relentless drizzle of revelations now, and it feels worse than ever. Labour used to be against this sort of thing, because it was often its target, and now it's enthusiastically colluding in it and attacking the sanity and patriotism of anyone who complains. I used to think that in the last resort good old British incompetence would be the final safeguard, but with the technology and consultants that are around today that's less comforting. I mean when noted bastions of democracy such as Stella Rimington and the House of Lords are warning about this sort of thing, you have to wonder.
posted by WPW at 10:31 PM on February 18, 2009

What is the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)?

It's also a group that allows 50 or so chief constables, all of whom are operationally accountable for what their police forces do, but who do not make up a single national "police service", to have a voice in setting national policy on policing, crime and counter-terrorism. Without ACPO, policing would be hugely more centralised as the Home Office would have a much greater influence on setting the direction of operational policing. A good example is the dropped plans to merge police forces into bigger regional forces: it was only after protests from ACPO, who said that it would be bad for policing, bad for local-neighbourhoods and bad value for money, that the plans were dropped.

I hadn't realised they were a private company, and I agree that it seems odd that they don't apply FOI principles to what they do - but then again their funding comes from the Home Office, and they really do have very few staff; it's an organisation that relies on chief constables having a national role in particular parts of policy as well as their force responsibilities - but police forces, of course, are subject to FOI. So it's not a get-out clause to avoid the police releasing information. I agree that there are ways to make the organisation more politically accountable, but I think the conspiracy theories are a bit overblown.
posted by greycap at 11:07 PM on February 18, 2009

Yeah, sorry WPW; I was inspired to the though by what you wrote rather than offering some smart-arsery, and I did gloss over the newness of this private company of top coppers as well. I know what you mean about the Labour Party; the editor of not-entirely-nutty parapolitics magazine The Lobster apparently addressed the comrades on these very topics on the eve of their 1997 return to power. They must have used their notes in ways other than Ramsay intended.
posted by Abiezer at 11:28 PM on February 18, 2009

Abiezer, no need to be sorry, it is important to remember the state has form in this kind of thing. My father was involved in the anti-Apartheid movement in the 70s and 80s, and saw some of this; that was the kind of "extremist" they were interested in back then.
posted by WPW at 11:55 PM on February 18, 2009

The Met Special Branch was merged with SO13 a couple of years back to make up Counter Terrorism Command. Theoretically, they're now officially the plod version of MI5 as opposed to the 'beating up Irish people we don't like the look of' Special Branch reputation.

That ACPO gets it's own surveillance unit, given it's not officially a government body, is deeply worrying. Councils might be abusing the RIP act to commit covert surveillance on suspected litterers and 4 year olds to check if they're allowed to go to a particular school; but at least they're part of local government.

Without ACPO, policing would be hugely more centralised as the Home Office would have a much greater influence on setting the direction of operational policing

I'm not sure I see this as a bad thing. The Home Office is run by an elected politician. We can, in theory, get rid of them every 4-5 years. When ACPO decides to start issuing stun-guns to the general plod, or that they're going to keep the records collected by the Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, building a defacto database of everybody in the country's movements - when they do these things, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Civil rights in the UK, especially the right to privacy guaranteed under the European Charter, are disappearing fast. Between CCTV cameras watching you in the city centre, ANPR cameras tracking your car movements, ID cards tracking every interaction with local government or banking (eventually), supermarket loyalty card data being handed over to all and sundry detailing your shopping, everyone from the traffic warden upwards performing covert surveillance with video cameras, planned full monitoring of all email and web traffic, that your encryption keys have to be handed over on demand or face prison, and now the senior plod get to decide what political protests are and aren't acceptable with no oversight.

The problem is, public protest seems to have no effect on this government at all. It doesn't matter what they do; they just have to shake the bogyman of 'the tories, the tories, they're coming to close down all your jobs' at the north, and they get elected again regardless.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:39 AM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Which now I think about it, is even more worrying; given the history of police corruption in places like Manchester and Birmingham, you'd think people there would be even more concern there about the growing use of unsupervised police powers than in the rural south.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:07 AM on February 19, 2009

I did gloss over the newness of this private company of top coppers as well.

What newness? The ACPO has existed for over 60 years.
posted by ninebelow at 5:06 AM on February 19, 2009

I'm OK with the ACPO not having total and transparent accountability. But then I have never been arrested, I'm not a criminal, don't agitate for any causes or belong to a pressure group, have no registered political affiliations, have never been gay, black, Jewish, Muslim or ginger* and have only worn leather trousers once when a shopkeeper in Carnaby St insisted I try them on.

I do quite like "Crazy Horses" by the Osmonds, though, and am wondering if I should pre-emptively get rid of it from my music collection in case new legislation is brought out on possession of offensive material.

*apart from a small dab on my chin when I don't shave for a while, but Mr Gillette sees to it that my secret never gets out
posted by MuffinMan at 6:55 AM on February 19, 2009

I have never been arrested, I'm not a criminal, don't agitate for any causes or belong to a pressure group, have no registered political affiliations, have never been gay, black, Jewish, Muslim or ginger* and have only worn leather trousers once when a shopkeeper in Carnaby St insisted I try them on.

My dear fellow, then you're perfectly prepared for a future where the "mainstream" of opinion has dwindled to a narrowly defined trickle of polluted uncomplaining centre-right neoliberal thought in between great banks of so-called "radicalism", where unionists and Amnesty members and who knows who else are lumped up with fascists and terrorists and subjected to intrusive police monitoring and routine breaches of privacy.
posted by WPW at 7:31 AM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Flip, sorry muffinman, that might sound like I'm having a go at you but I certainly didn't mean to, I'm just wailing about The State We're In.

When it comes down to it, a pervasive surveillance infrastructure, ID cards and databases are all undesirable, but they're just tools, it's the minds using them that matter. The most dangerous thing we face is this elastic definition of "extremism". We're told that "extremism" is on the rise, and their are certainly problems with the far right, radical islamists and a couple of other tiny groups, but their numbers are all minuscule. If we're in for a prolonged and deep recession, and the far left and far right balloon in numbers, and all sort of other fringe groups take off, we'll see "extremism" (of vague definition) used more and more by politicians to justify any number of actions.

I don't think Britain will do fascism, but I know we can do oppressive, duopolistic, corrupt, illiberal, centre-right National Government or Grand Coalition or Emergency Administration, because we did it in the 1930s.
posted by WPW at 7:54 AM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

WPW - we're on the same page. The day you hear that Icelandic financial assets are frozen under terrorism legislation you realise that as long as the tools are in place, it's virtually impossible to avoid coming under their auspices unless you live a risk-free, uncomplaining, centrist life.

The problem as I see it - which you've also made mention of - is the polarisation of so many issues such that almost any issue - taxation, hunting, immigration, freedom of speech or religious association - becomes a with-us-or-against-us issue.

I see part of the problem as the media: faced with a long term outlook of a dwindling market, one response has been to mine a niche and move more away from the centre. That's certainly true if you look at the way the Express and Mail on one side and the Indy on the other have gone. And [a pet topic of mine] how the BBC is increasingly attacked because "objective" news presentation or commentary looks more like a liability than an asset.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:56 AM on February 19, 2009

What newness? The ACPO has existed for over 60 years.
The current incarnation as a private company has apparently replaced an older, looser association: "ACPO, set up in 1997 to replace an informal network of police chiefs who decided national policies" (from the Indy article).
Problem with your analysis ArkhanJG is that the people voting on economic issues are coming from communities who've had the police behaving like this for longer, so aren't going to be feeling it as a new oppression and probably welcome the supposed role of CCTV etc in combating anti-social crime - I mean, if we're talking about the former industrial North you've got places like pit villages where the Met ran riot during the Miner's Strike, pickets had their freedom of movement curtailed and so on best part of thirty years ago. The new technology, particularly all those databases they keep leaving in laptops in car parks, probably means a qualitative difference but at the sharp end I wonder how apparent that is. Funnily enough, re-watched the Beiderbecke Affair just last week and the plot in part turns around that new graduate copper bringing in computers and having a culture clash with his chief who came up cracking heads on the Liverpool docks and fitting up the bad guys - or forcing them to move to Manchester.
posted by Abiezer at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2009

The ACPO is, emphatically, a Bad Thing. But I am sick to the back teeth of Americans ranting about how the UK is 'just like a police state now'. The thing that you probably don't understand about the British police is that even when they're absolute fucks, they're never as viscerally frightening as US police. It probably boils down to the armed/unarmed distinction, but I've been chased by British police at a political demonstration (we were trying to move it somewhere they didn't want it to be) and I wasn't even a tiny fraction as frightened as I was when someone from the Transport Police or whatever asked me to stop sitting on the steps at Grand Central Station. The American police force is all about the dramatic staging of power; even when I was waiting at a precinct with a four-year-old girl, trying to trace her mother who'd left me to babysit her 'for an hour' 72 hours previously, they never let me forget how helpless I was. They hadn't even smiled as they drove us there in the car. American police are frightening because they're the face of something absolute, something beyond reason or explanations. I'd need to draw on psychoanalytic terms to describe it fully - Lacanian Law, perhaps, some kind of paternal myth. It isn't in the realm of everyday experience. I doubt all the security cameras and poor regional policies in the world could make the British police force as uncannily terrifying. Maybe guns could, eventually. I'm sure having the power of life and death is connected to this aura of fear, though I don't think it's a simple, direct cause. So much of it is theatre - the cold 'Ma'am'ing and 'Sir'ing, the rigid facial expressions, the tone of voice. Maybe even the costumes. Fluorescent anoraks aren't very auratic.
posted by Acheman at 3:01 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, from the bottom of adamvasco's guardian link:

Timothy Garton Ash is among the speakers at the Convention on Modern Liberty, which takes place in London on Saturday 28 February, with other sessions in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Cambridge, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff. For more information and to buy tickets, see

Looks like there's going to be the usual groups (no2id, liberty, amnesty, privacy international) along with a number of MPs (vince cable, nick clegg, david davis). Think I might go to the Bristol one, given it's local and free.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2009

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