Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Oxford Union believes the police do serve the people

On Thursday night, the Oxford Union voted against the motion ‘This House Believes The Police Do Not Serve the People.’ The final count had 61 members voting for the motion and 64 members voting against.

During the emergency debate the house also voted against the motion ‘This House Would Join the Encampment’. Speakers in favour of it discussed the state of the conflict in Gaza and argued the encampment is a symbol of our right to free speech which we should cherish. Those against the motion testified that the encampment has led to a rise of antisemitism in Oxford and argued that its requests, if met, would not have a significant impact on the conflict. 

In the formal debate, speaking in favour of the motion about the police was Labour MP Graham Stringer, who was previously Leader of Manchester City Council. Leroy Logan MBE also spoke on this side. He was a police superintendent in the UK and was one of the founding members of the Black Police Association. Stringer and Logan were joined by Creative Writing masters student Ashling Sugrue (Kellog College). 

Speaking in the opposition was Andy Cooke QPM DL, a British public servant, former police officer and current Inspector. PPE student Conor Boyle (Queen’s College) and Law student Raza Nazar (Trinity College) also opposed the motion. 

Ashling Sugrue was the first speaker for the proposition. She argued the police are ineffective, stating that in 2023 in the UK it solved only 11% of crimes reported to them. Moreover, while it is true that increasing the number of police officers reduces crime, Sugrue defends that it does so so insignificantly that it does not justify the cost of deploying more officers. That money should go instead towards welfare and education for example, which tackle what she believes is the root cause of criminality: poverty. 

Conor Boyle opened the case for the opposition by recalling the death of British police officer Andrew Harper, who was killed on duty during a burglary, and praised the courage of the police who run towards danger when our natural instinct is to run away from it. 

Boyle argued that the vast majority of officers have good intentions, and that in the past few years the number of people killed by police is between one and three per year in England and Wales – the issue is of a very different scale than in the United States. He insisted that the people and the police are supposed to be “intertwined”, or at least in cooperation. Of course, the police play an important role in making this true, but so do we. 

Graham Stringer spoke next in favour of the motion and criticised the system for letting some people go out on the streets who are not fit for the job. He argued that the point of policing is “policing of the people for the people”, yet the police are too distant from the people, who do not feel like they are being protected. Stringer called for politicians to be brave, as there is a need for “political accountability” to tell the police what they should be doing: they should be serving the people.

Raza Nazar then continued the case for the opposition by arguing that steps have been taken to tackle the problems the police face. He delved into three key areas of reform that the MET is currently undergoing: 1) community crime fighting, 2) cultural change (to fight racism, sexism and homophobia notably) and 3) fixing foundations (by improving training). 

Nazar talked about the 2017 Westminster attack during which five people were killed, including unarmed police officer Keith Palmer who was stabbed fatally. He argued that to say that the police do not serve the people “trivialises” the sacrifice of police officers like him. 

The third and last speaker for the proposition was Leroy Logan MBE who worked for 30 years in the MET. He argued the main issue with the police is its culture: “[police culture] can be very very mesmerising, it can be very very galvanising, but it doesn’t mean it serves the needs of the people.” He recalled shocking discussions in WhatsApp group chats, where if someone stepped up they would be seen as troublemakers. He concluded by declaring: “We want a police that’s fit for purpose, we want a police that has openness and transparency, we want a police that does not gaslight us … How it’s done is through culture change. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Andy Cooke QPM DL closed the case of the opposition. He gave three reasons why we should be proud of the British police service. First,  “the vast majority of police officers are dedicated to the public service”. Secondly, police officers bravely run towards danger in circumstances that “most people are lucky to never have to confront themselves”. They are “frequently abused, frequently spat at, frequently assaulted” for a starting salary of £28 000. Thirdly, the police make an “immeasurable difference” in keeping people safe, notably by preventing crime, for which they get little credit. He concluded that “in an imperfect world, the police are also imperfect”.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles