Ask any police officer why they joined the job in the first place and there’s a very good chance the answer will be ‘I wanted to make a difference’ or ‘I wanted to help people’.
Then ask the same police officers if the reality of the job met their expectations and I’d put money on the answer being a big fat ‘NO’.
Take me for example (please do before the men in the white coats get me) – I joined the police later in life, as did several of my colleagues. We were all deemed by our age to have lived and worked in the real world (hopefully I am still there) and had what the buzz word people at headquarters called ‘life experience’. This apparently meant we had seen and done a fair bit in our time and could be trusted to be impartial, knowledgeable and deal with peoples’ problems sensibly and compassionately.
Although never for once did I think I’d spend any of my time wandering through the green and pleasant lands of our countryside; marvelling at the wonders of Mother Nature. I knew, from day one I would be thrust into the concrete jungle, the realm of Britain’s social underclass (affectionately known as The Great Unwashed).
What started very well very quickly became disheartening when the realisation set in that there is very little interest in reducing crime coming down from the top, as long as the soundbites are good and the Government of the day has a fair chance of re-election.
Sadly, as time has gone by, too many fingers have been put in the pie by politicians and people who have no concept of a) what policing is all about and b) what happens in the real world – It’s fair to say that most of the people making the decisions that affect the lives of us normal folk (and yes dear reader that includes us uniform wearers), have never had to set foot on the 16th floor of a terribly run-down block of council flats; have never experienced what it’s like to be in your 80’s, living alone in a one bed bungalow, having to make the daily decision whether to eat or heat; or had to deal with the consequences of your own child dying of a drugs overdose.
Policing, by virtue of it’s nature, is not a difficult job to do – left to get on with the job, we hunt down criminals, solve crime and get people locked away so they can’t do any further harm to decent members of society. Sadly, that’s too much for some people, and a whole industry has ballooned with the sole mission of making this simple task as difficult as possible. Now I wouldn’t suggest for one minute that we should throw caution to the wind and chuck people in the clink on a mere whim, but when you’ve arrested a shoplifter for his 147th offence and he’s still at it unabated, you have to ask what benefit it is to society as a whole for him to still be walking the streets.
The said mere shoplifter may, on this occasion, have only nicked a couple of quid’s worth of stuff – but the value matters not – once the wheels have started turning whether its 10p or £10,000 the same investigation has to take place – and at what horrendous cost to the taxpayer ??? Many of these same people have successfully argued that ‘prison doesn’t work’ and community sentencing is better for all (for that read cheaper) but let’s hit a reality strike here:
The great majority of the general public never have any dealings with the police ….. ever ….. at all ….. full stop. The unfortunate minority of the said proportion of society that come into contact with the police do so because their car has been broken into / been stolen or their house has been burgled – and to keep things in perspective, it’s not a great number. These are genuine victims of crime and every police officer will work his/her guts of to try and help them – normally in the face of great adversity, mainly caused by the great God of red tape – forget what you’ve heard in the Government spin about reducing paperwork, on the day the Home Secretary did her sound bite about how frustrating it was that we have to complete 70 odd pages of forms for a burglary and how wrong that was, we were issued with another 10 page form to fill in as well as everything else !!!
Again, with violent crime, there are not a lot of, for want of a better word, ‘innocent’ victims. The statistical chances of you walking down the street and a complete stranger walking up to you and hitting you for no reason are not that great – most violent crime needs a couple of ingredients to make it work – alcohol and/or drugs and more alcohol and/or drugs on both sides, with perhaps the odd on-going neighbour dispute thrown in for good measure. The one obvious exception to this rule of course is domestic violence, which is deplorable by any sane persons standards.
The small minority of people whom are regular ‘customers’ of the police are so because they generally fall into one of two categories – 1) They cannot control their own life and need someone (us) to do it for them, or 2) They are unable to control their own life to the extent that because they are not happy, they have to make as many other people as unhappy as possible.
Add to this that the vast majority of acquisitive crime (theft, shoplifting, TWOC’s and burglary) is done by a very small number of people to feed a raging drug habit and the picture becomes much simpler – if we sent these people to prison to serve sentences in the region of the maximum that the offences they commit allow, we would not be sending vastly more people to prison – we would be sending the same people less, but for longer. And longer terms would allow far more intervention by people who can help with alcohol and drug addiction; can identify mental health issues that need addressing; and can help with proper rehabilitation needs. On top of that is the more obvious point that the longer the serial criminal is banged up, the safer the streets are and the less crime there is – everyone’s a winner !!!!
Of course, the police do many other jobs as well as dealing with crime – we will happily search for you lost child / wife / granddad because that’s important too; we deal with RTC’s because they are important; we deal with plane crashes, suicides, bomb threats, murders and of course all those devotees to a good ‘smashed out of your skull’ Friday night, but on top of all of this, the powers that be are now directing more and more roles and tasks in our direction, because everyone else is having cutbacks (like we aren’t) and whereas your Social Workers, Environmental Health Officers, etc, go home at 5.00pm on the dot, we are here 24 hours a day ….. and we are a free service.
The undeniable reality is that we are trying to do more and more with less and less. I particularly like the recent what must be the ‘nationally adopted’ stance of ‘we are not reducing numbers of frontline officers’ for as to do so would really be political suicide for anyone. It’s certainly not telling a lie, but it’s far from the real truth. Whereas it sounds good to the public on the face of it, when the backroom staff have been slashed with a meat cleaver bigger than the one Jimmy Williams was waving round in Market Street last Saturday night, and all the jobs they were employed to do to keep officers out of the stations and on the streets are given back to those ‘not reduced numbers of frontline officers’ because there’s no one else to do them what does that mean ?? those officers are deskbound filling more and more and more forms,
The question is – with a system at breaking point, what happens when it tips over ???