Top politicians are trying to influence police operations by putting senior officers under pressure either directly or via the media, a watchdog has found.
Police chiefs have accused senior politicians of regularly trying to “interfere or influence” their operations.
In a letter to Home Secretary James Cleverly, Chief Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke said most senior officers in 12 forces have experienced “improper pressure or interference from significant political figures, whether through direct contact or through the media”.
The 12 forces, in England and Wales, were visited as part of a review of activism and impartiality in the police commissioned by previous home secretary Suella Braverman, in what was cast as a war on “woke” policing.
The ordering of the review itself was given as an example of such political interference.
Mr Cooke said: “One of the most consistent themes in the evidence we have obtained so far is the extent to which senior national political figures directly or indirectly influence, or attempt to influence, police operations.
“Senior police leaders told us that when this takes place in public, it makes it harder to maintain an appearance of impartiality.
“Most senior officers told us that they experience what they believe to be improper pressure or interference from significant political figures, whether through direct contact or through the media.”
He added: “Many cited this commission and the associated correspondence as one example of this.”
When Ms Braverman ordered the review, she claimed public confidence in police was being damaged by things like officers taking the knee, and that she was concerned about police “pandering to politically correct causes”.
In the review’s findings, it was claimed that an unnamed MP told their local force that a more senior politician would get involved if certain action was not taken.
Mr Cooke said that while MPs are “perfectly entitled to make representations about issues affecting their constituents”, they “shouldn’t seek to interfere with the operational independence of the police”.
“In one example, we were told of an MP implying that a more senior political figure would become involved if a particular action was not taken.”
He said many officers have come to believe that operational activities on matters like protest policing and stop and search operations “are directly or indirectly influenced by the views of the police and crime commissioner or mayor, or senior figures in government”.
A row broke out last year over the influence of politicians on the police after Mrs Braverman and Rishi Sunak were involved in a stand-off with Britain’s most senior officer over whether to ban pro-Palestinian protests in London on Remembrance weekend.
Some Conservative MPs were furious by Ms Braverman’s incendiary article in The Times last November in which she accused the Met Police of bias towards left-wing protesters, accusing her of undermining public confidence in law enforcement and eroding trust in Britain’s system of democracy.
The comments marked the beginning of the end of her time as home secretary, and Mr Cleverly has sought to calm relations with the police since taking over the role.
In his letter, Mr Cooke said there needs to be a greater understanding of rules that enshrine the operational independence of the police, and what the term means.
The principle that police officers are operationally independent of government dates back nearly 1,000 years to the Statute of Westminster of 1285.
HMICFRS inspectors carried out work in 12 police forces: Cheshire, Dorset, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Metropolitan, Northumbria, Sussex, West Midlands and West Yorkshire.
It is due to publish its full report later in the year.