The coppers round my part of south London are really pretty good. They chase the occasional burglar; they’re courteous when they come to your door; and if you can get hold of their direct lines or mobiles they’re even better. Last year, my friendly local rozzers did an excellent job of removing a large, noisy gang of criminally inclined hoodies who had taken to congregating on some steps by the estate at the bottom of my garden. This made all the homeowners in my neck of the woods feel much happier and more secure. ‘Hurrah! The police doing their ruddy job for once!’ we all thought.
But stories like that are the exception rather than the rule, aren’t they? It’s like going through US airport security and encountering an immigration officer who doesn’t treat you as if the only reason you’ve come is to kill their president, or ringing a key functionary on your local council and discovering they’re not on extended sick leave: so rare and cherishable a moment that it becomes your staple dinner-party anecdote for months thereafter.
As a typical, nice, reasonably law-abiding middle-class person I find this fact worrying. I’m 43 now, with wife, kids, mortgage and all the trappings. I really should have reached the age and situation where you look on the police as your trusted friends and allies. Instead, I still regard them with the same wariness as I do those frisky Staffordshire terriers being trained by the local drug dealers to kill one another in the park. They seem amiable enough on the surface, but you just never know when they might turn.
Take that woman who was whacked in the face and leg during the G20 protests, or Ian Tomlinson, a news vendor who was knocked down by police and died shortly afterwards of a heart attack. When you look at the video footage you can sort of see why that riot policeman was tempted to have a go with his baton. The way Tomlinson was shambling slowly right in front of them, impeding their path, must have looked like willful provocation (rather than, as it probably was, the behaviour of a tired, drunk man trying to wend his way home). But that’s really no excuse. We don’t give our police uniforms and badges of authority and generous overtime so that they can go on acting like the thugs some of them are underneath. In return for the privilege we have given them to boss us around on occasion, we expect them to behave with dignity and deference and restraint. And to remember who it is that pays their wages.
They rarely do, though. Take that heartbreaking story last year of the barrister in Chelsea who was depressed and began loosing off shots from his shotgun. I wonder how many rozzers’ salaries he and his family have funded over the years. Didn’t stop the boys in black wasting him, though, did it? And comprehensively so: 11 bullets, all in, fired by no fewer than seven police marksmen. No doubt they have all very successfully persuaded their consciences and their supervisors that this sad man crying out for help posed a clear and present danger to the public. But shotguns have a short range and the area had been cleared. One can’t help concluding that they killed him not because they had to but because they could.
The police seem to have forgotten what it is that police are for. I think the first time I realised this was in Parliament Square in 2004 when I saw the blood oozing from the viciously cracked heads of the country folk who’d come to protest about New Labour’s fox-hunting ban. There have been lots more examples since:
•Those three women in Highmoor Cross, Oxfordshire, shot by a rampaging gunman, then left bleeding and dying for the best part of an hour by police who were apparently more concerned for their own health and safety than that of the gunman’s victims.
•The ludicrous business with Damian Green.
•Those special constables — all right, not proper policemen, but still — who felt they couldn’t try to rescue the drowning boy in the pond because they hadn’t had the correct training.
•The middle-class motorist arrested and given the third degree for carrying a knife in his car.
Clearly, some of this is beyond the police’s control. It’s not their fault they’re subject to the nannyish health and safety regulations imposed on us by the European socialist superstate; it’s not their fault that for the past 12 years their agenda has been set by a government which sees the police not as enforcers of law and order but as promoters of political correctness and multiculturalism. And there’s no point our demanding that they should become more clever or subtle because, well, this is the police force, not the diplomatic corps.
So short of pulling immediately out of Europe and executing every person who has ever been involved with the New Labour project, what can we do to put things right? I agree with Dan Hannan, Douglas Carswell (and others in the Tory party) that the best immediate solution is to make police more locally accountable through a sheriff system.
A sheriff concerned about being re-elected would never allow valuable police resources to be wasted on, say, busting Kate Moss for drug abuse so as to send a vital no-tolerance message to coke-snorting metropolitan types. Nor would he put up with clowns like ‘traffic Taleban’ Richard Brunstrom, the man who once tried to prosecute Tony Blair for saying ‘f***ing Welsh’ and who seems to take such orgasmic delight in nicking motorists for the dreaded crime of speeding. There simply wouldn’t be any votes in it.
In the Dixon Of Dock Green era, the police understood this. If you looked or sounded as if you might belong to the criminal classes, they’d come down hard on you for the tiniest infraction; if you spoke RP and called them ‘Oshifer’ they were more inclined to take a generous line on the fact that neither of your brake lights was working, your speech was slurred and you’d just driven into the village duck pond.
I’m not sure that I can see much wrong in these double standards. Sure it’s unfair. But it’s not nearly as unfair as the current state of affairs, where middle-class motorists and hairbrush-wielding parents are harassed while burglars and muggers can go about their business with virtual impunity; where a bunch of treacherous Islamists barracking homecoming British troops are allowed to hurl abuse, while the member of the public who goes to remonstrate with them is arrested.
The reason the police exist is because we, the voters and taxpayers, have consented to their existence. They are not there to protect their own interests. Nor are they there to advance the progressive social agenda of any government. Nor is it their job to shirk tasks just because they look a bit scary or difficult. They are there to represent us, to do our bidding and to uphold the values that we, the majority of British people, would most like to see upheld. We forget this at our peril. Indeed we have largely forgotten it. We have got the police that we deserve. This needs to change.