There is getting to be an increasing amount of dissatisfaction with the police. There’s the usual stuff – failing to respond to emergency calls, never being anywhere useful when anyone wants them and being more concerned with paperwork and political correctness than with the real concerns of the public. This has been around for years and complaints of this kind are usually accompanied by comments such as “the ordinary copper does his best, it’s the system, you know”. Or – and this one comes from policemen quite often – “I joined to police to catch criminals and that’s what I want to do.”
However, there’s a new theme emerging – and not just from intemperate bloggers – which suggests that the police’s problem is as much about the ordinary copper as it is about the systems and processes imposed on them by a controlling and directing government. Yet, when you meet ordinary coppers they seem pretty straightforward men and women – a little officious at times but, hey, when was an official not officious!
So where are the problems? I’ve a few suggestions, all of which are about operational policing not about political direction or accountability.
Get rid of the great barracks-like divisional headquarters that make the police seem like some occupying army. Huge blocks of building with small windows just oozing with ill-judged power and domination. Get back to local stations even police houses in villages – with today’s technology there’s no need for big central bureaucracies. People would respond far better – would see the police as a community service rather than an occupying force – if there was easy local access to an open an approachable building.
Stop dressing like a paramilitary army all bulging with buzzing and bleeping technology. Remember that, in the place you’re patrolling in a stab-proof jacket, hi-viz vest and other protections, ordinary folk like me are wandering about oblivious in our t-shirts and jeans.
Place less reliance on technology and more on good judgment. I know, I know – intelligence-led policing requires loads of very fancy technology. And you’ve got to have whizzo computers, special radio systems (which are so good all the parish councils round Cullingworth were asked to sponsor a copper’s mobile phone) and, of course, helicopters and souped up fast cars. Think again – your job is prevention first which means getting out and about, knowing the local community and being on the ground to respond.
Be around more and more prepared to give somebody the time. We all remember that old saw - “if you want to know the time ask a policeman”. It was true and reflected the police as trusted, competent and, above all, approachable. As my neighbour discovered recently, polite requests for or offers of information are often unwelcome – my neighbour was asked whether she’d been drinking.
Place a lower priority on acting as muscle for other enforcement agencies. The priority is preventing crime not serving the political agenda of local authorities, the RSPCA or the taxman. And, if these agencies require help, they should pay for it – that would make them a whole lot less gung-ho.
Think more about allowing people to do the things they want to do rather than thinking of reasons to stop them. Assume good intentions in the photographer, the pedlar, the busker and the drunk rather than presuming that they either are or intend to be trouble.
These suggestions – with perhaps the exception of the first one – could be enacted tomorrow. They don’t require changes to the law, they don’t need additional funds and they don’t require more folk or more admin. Somehow I doubt they will happen.