I am sure many people have now read Sunday’s Mail Online article by infamous journalist Peter Hitchens. The article uses an extract from within as its title “GET RID OF THEIR GUNS, CARS AND TASERS AND WE MIGHT JUST END UP WITH REAL POLICEMEN”.
This inflammatory comment sets the tone for the entire article in which he lambasts the Police and pretty much labels them useless. Upon first reading the article I, like many others completely disagreed with him, rejected it as what has sadly become typical Daily Mail anti-Police rhetoric and then allowed it to anger me. I then headed to Peter’s twitter timeline and saw that many others had expressed their disagreement with the article in a wide variety of ways and so I decided to send a few tweets to him myself. They were not offensive, or were at least not intended to be, but I just made a few comments about the article and then informed him that I was offended by his suggestions because I had sadly lost a friend and colleague to armed criminals. Peter would later dismiss my comment as “irrelevant” because he had lost a friend to the IRA. Not sure where the logic is in that but I found his dismissal rather distasteful. I am deeply sorry Peter has lost a friend in this manner and I can sympathise with him in ways he won’t know so I certainly would not dismiss such a thing as irrelevant.
My comments on Peter’s timeline soon attracted some strange people and one particularly vile male who seemed frighteningly obsessed with the man. However I did end up talking to some rather sensible, intelligent, mature and reasonable Hitchens supporters who engaged in polite debate and did not become rude, aggressive or offensive when we disagreed. Mr Hitchens himself responded to some of my tweets with his usual sharp rudeness which having read a few of his blogs now I quite like and find amusing, but this is fine and acceptable because I was not particularly polite either. I have to respect a person who speaks their mind and says what they think and feel without worrying about the consequences or who they may upset. Whilst it may be sometimes rude and offensive it is at least honest.
Having spoken to these people and having now read his article several times I would like to firstly admit that I was perhaps wrong to dismiss it immediately and secondly to apologise for my rudeness. I fully respect other people’s opinions and if this article is Peter’s then I respect that. My reason for writing this blog however is to do what he and others have suggested and to point out, in a reasonable manner, where his article lacks fact.
The article is predominantly based on opinion. Peter’s opinion of Police, Policing and a couple of high profile incidents where officers have fallen short of the levels of professionalism expected. I think the thing that has upset many and gotten so many backs up is the sweeping generalisations contained throughout the blog. Peter has expressed his opinion of presumably his local constabulary and expressed this as fact in relation to “the Police” in general to a national audience. Reading between the lines I think the article is aimed at the Policing of London however the language use and numerous generalisations imply to the average reader that the same negativities apply to Police throughout the UK. Peter told many on his timeline that he was more than qualified to make his comments because he had written a book about crime and policing etc which involved research. That book however was written quite some time ago. If the website is correct they date from 1999 to 2003. Policing was different then. Very different. I only joined in 2004 and even now the Police service and its methods are unrecognisable to when I joined. The other thing which has changed tremendously is society, crime trends and crime types. I dare say that Peter’s research on this topic may be a little dated. Allow me to explain and clarify a few things.
Firstly, the opening question I am going to take as rhetorical. Whilst many do not support the Police and some actually despise them, it is pretty obvious how useful Police Officers are. They do a job nobody else could or would and without the Police the world would be a much more frightening place to live. Until there is an alternative to criticise then the Police remain a very useful tool in preventing and detecting crime and protecting the public. They are only hampered in this role by political interference.
Secondly, despite Peter’s opinion Police Officers do NOT have an ambiguous attitude towards the public. Police Officers have a lot of respect for honest law abiding members of the public. If they did not hold a positive attitude towards them then why would they serve them? They put their lives on the line, their health and safety at risk and face daily criticism because they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t and they do all of this for the public. The Police do NOT avoid heading out into the streets or fear being approached and they do NOT always work with another colleague. With cuts to frontline policing, which are being cleverly hidden from the public eye, many officers are PREVENTED from heading into the streets. Not by choice for most, but because of workload demands and the wishes of those at the top of the chain of command and in Government. So called “back office” roles usually done by civilians are being plugged by officers. Cuts to the frontline mean less officers to deal with suspects and so they are dragged in off the streets to deal with the interview and charging process which depending on the offence can take hours. Officers want to be out patrolling but most of the time the mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy prevents as many of them from venturing outside some days. It is not “the Police” on the ground that makes this decision, it is those at the very top sitting in the Home Office or those a little further down the chain.
When officers do go out on patrol then yes I think it is fair to say these days most do so in a vehicle. Again this is due to the dangerously low numbers of Officers available to cover such vast areas and because many criminals these days do not skulk around on foot in the shadows, they travel in vehicles and it is pretty tricky to keep up with a car on foot and as today’s press shows, it can be very dangerous trying to stop a criminal in a car whilst on foot. The main reason however is that the Police have strict response times. They must attend an emergency call from the public promptly and can take no longer than 14mins 59seconds (may vary depending on location) or the call is “missed” and this reflects badly on the force when the statistic geeks come calling which then results in rapped knuckles which roll downwards with increased severity to the initial attending officers. It would be impossible with the number of officers today and the huge areas they cover to meet this strict response times on foot. Let me give you a factual example.
My beat area is two hundred square miles. It is at any one time covered by only 2 Police Constables and 3-4 PCSO colleagues. My force has a STRICT single crewing policy and we are routinely monitored via GPS to ensure we are single crewed. If we are found to be double crewed then we are contacted immediately by a rank of at least Inspector and asked to account for why. Unless we are off to make an arrest of a violent person, transporting a prisoner, dealing with a person known to make allegations or suffering with Mental Health issues or transporting the officer(s) to their foot beat then we will be in a little bother. Working with a colleague these days is a luxury and if we can not justify it then we will be disciplined. The only exception to this rule is Friday and Saturday evenings in busy towns or cities. We have just lost a lot of vehicles from our fleet and so my beat only has one marked Police car and one marked Police van. Unless we have a prisoner to process or have specifically requested clerical time in advance then we must all be out on the streets within 30mins of starting our shift, just enough time to brief, check the vehicles and kit and away we go. Often we park up and walk around on foot engaging with the community and have to run back to the vehicle when an emergency call is made. One of us transports our PCSO colleagues to their designated beat areas and then has to round them back up again unless public transport is working. And so as you can see, this is completely different to Peter’s opinion and this is fact. This is not just a one off example for my current beat, this is the case for all beats I have worked and for friends in other forces I have spoken to before writing this.
Sadly, because there are so few Police officers these days they have to prioritise their work and do not have the resources to deal with everything that comes in. I remember only 8 years ago when I would turn up to briefing at the start of my shift and there would be at least 20 cops on shift. Eight would take cars, two of which were double crewed, and the rest headed out on foot. I loved it. These days there is often only 6-10 officers on shift and the Neighbourhood teams such as mine have even less as stated above. For this reason we do often have to pick and choose jobs. Sir Peter Fahy caused controversy when he admitted recently that 60% of crimes are not investigated. This is the true nature of Government cuts to Policing. So the Officer who Peter alleges stated he was busy doing something else “in an irritable voice” when he asked him to deal with somebody who ran a red light was most probably simply being honest and was irritable because, whilst I do not wish to make assumptions, I dare say Peter would have been his usual abrupt and rude self when speaking with the Officer in this alleged incident. I wasn’t there and so can not say for certain what that officer was doing at the time, perhaps Peter can explain further, but I have been in similar situations where I am pulled over noting down details of a call I am being despatched to or I am perhaps doing some important clerical at the roadside or even waiting for a suspect vehicle which I know is heading my way, when I have been shouted at by a member of the public for “ignoring” a car which they believe was speeding or the driver was on the phone. Whilst these are offences and should and will be dealt with when possible, I am afraid that we can not deal with everything. We all long for more resources and the ability to do more so please do not blame the boots on the ground for this as we are as equally frustrated as the public.
I can not argue at all with his comments regarding the Prince Andrew incident or the Mitchell incident other than to question the part where he implies the Police leaked the story about the Prince to the press. Is this actually true or was it just a convenient link into his bit about “Plebgate”? If it is true then yes I agree it is wrong, if not then he is wrong to imply to a national audience that this was the case.
I don’t think there is a Police Officer in the UK today that does not wish they could Police without the need for guns, Taser and vests. All these things have become vital tools in the fight against crime. I do not believe Officers should be routinely armed with guns but to remove them completely would completely prevent anybody at all dealing with armed criminals and to have them available only at the station to be allocated to trained officers when an incident come in would only delay response time and put more lives at risk. The same applies for Taser. These tools are much safer and cause less problems and discomfort for the suspect then CS spray yet this has become acceptable now. Yes there have been a few Taser horror stories in the press but when compared to the plethora of unreported positive Taser deployments these few cases would not even be 1%. Having been subjected to the Taser (by choice) and seen it used a handful of times I have no issue saying it is a vital tool and should replace CS and Pepper spray. And as for vests… Well to suggest the Police should be deployed in this day an age without one is madness. I wish we could be but we can’t. So long as the Police and Justice System receive no respect or fear from violent criminals and offers no deterrent these days then Police will continue to need protection from harm when putting themselves in front of armed and violent criminals. My vest has saved my skin, if not my life, on more than one occasion and has stopped bullets killing a few of my colleagues too. Helicopters although expensive really do assist the Police. They were introduced as a progression in policing and are used for a wide variety of roles such as searching for criminals and missing persons, safely following vehicles to prevent dangerous pursuits, monitoring public disorder incidents to direct officers and gather evidence. The list of jobs they do which could not be done by any other means even if we trebled the number of cops on the ground is vast. I really do wish these things were not needed to Police society but before the surrendering of these items can even be considered, society needs to change, crime needs to drop (for real, not just on paper) and the Police need more resources so they can safely patrol. Does Peter really think 2013 Britain can be policed using archaic methods, tactics and equiptment?
I agree with Peter to some extent that the uniform needs to change. We are beginning to look slightly more militant and even more so when armed to the teeth in and around the streets of London. The Police uniform has gone from being smart, presentable and also carrying an air of authority to a national mismatch of styles and colours and although it may be more practical for modern day policing it is quite uncomfortable, looks quite militant, often looks scruffy and does little to help our desired approachable image. I hate the thin, tight fitting moisture wicking polo shirts most now wear and think we should look at moving back to the white shirt and ties and having some pride in our appearance once again. The horrid hi-vis jackets and tac vests are grime magnets and get dirty very quickly and rarely come out clean when washed. Many cops walk around in dirty day-glow looking more like an AA mechanic these days because that is the uniform we are given. I love looking back at pictures of uniformed Police through the ages and when uniform from only 8 years ago is put next to today’s it really is quite sad to see.
The fact is Policing has changed because society has changed. Society has changed because of poor leadership in Government. The days of the local bobby being only a shout or whilst blow away are long gone and I would love nothing more for them to return. I would happily put up a Police sign on my house and be my town’s local bobby. I would and often do quite happily patrol on foot in all kinds of inclement weather. I have done so in city centres, rough estates, rural areas and small towns and villages and I have done so alone. Yes it was nice in the days when you could perhaps walk with a friend and colleague and you knew you had immediate assistance if needed but nobody enters the world of Policing expecting to have somebody holding their hand every day. Whilst we might moan about it, the Police are more than used to change and learn to adapt all the time and despite what Peter’s article may say they are doing just that today. His own experience of Policing in London or in one particular area may be negative, his research from 10+ years ago may be negative (I don’t know as I have not read his books), his recent article may well be overly negative towards the Police but it was wrong of him to imply on a national level that what he sees and hears in relation to Policing in London is a reflection of “the Police” in general. It is not so much what he says that irritated me in particular but rather HOW he said it. In this day and age when the media hold the Police in general accountable for the actions of a select few resulting in a dispirited public, articles as vague and as sweeping as this only seek to fuel the erosion of the reputation of the Police Service of England and Wales, a Police Service respected and admired the world over.
All the things moaned about by Peter are also nothing to do with the men and women the public see on the streets which again is something I think Peter should have made clear. The lowly PC has no say in his/her deployment, posting, what he/she wears or carries for protection, what incident they can or can’t deal with, whether or not they can work with another bobby… The PC is at the very bottom of the Police ladder and does as it is told. These decisions are all made much higher up the ladder and quite often at a Government level and so for anybody to take out their anger, annoyance or even their hatred for Police and Policing out on the men and women on the ground is disgraceful and to hold the entire Police Service of England and Wales or even a whole force accountable for any single negative encounter or the mistake or criminal actions of a small select few corrupt officers is ridiculous. You would not and could not get away with discriminating against other groups in society based on the actions of a small minority. I would never for one second tar all journalists with the same brush because one or two like to write anti-police stories. It is wrong and deep down I think these people know that.
I doubt Peter will read this and if he does I doubt he will either admit it or agree. I hope I am proved wrong but I doubt it. I wanted to write it because I wanted to firstly apologise to Peter for my initial reaction and if he does read I hope he accepts that apology. Secondly I wanted to try and explain in greater detail than Twitter allows just exactly WHY I disagree with parts of his article. Many of his supporters have asked me questions that I can simply not respond to in 140 characters and so this is my response and my opinion based on my up to date knowledge and facts.