Consign the image of the traditional British 'Bobby' to the bins
The image of the traditional British policeman, helpful, smiling, polite, courteous, unarmed, is one that many coming to this country expect to see. The British police have prided themselves that they are a cut above the rest when it comes to relationship between the police and the public. But are they now still looked upon by the British public as something to be proud of? And are they still able to command respect rather than the contempt and loathing that the police forces in other countries recieve from their citizens?
A common complaint now is that the police officer has disappeared from the streets of everyday Britain. Certainly, there are officers on hand when Ministers of State are present, or at large gatherings of the public, or in front of sensitive Government buildings. Yet the officers, if they are ever seen in smaller towns and villages, are increasingly inaccessibly locked into their patrols cars, windows up, flashing lights on, as they unaccountably speed from station to station. Some of their functions have been replaced by PCSOs, the so caled 'plastic plods' who are less well trained, less well paid, less effective and whose image was terribly tarnished when two of them failed to enter the water to attempt to save a ten year old. [see story here ]
Police pay has raced ahead, with even quite lowly ranks earning substantial sums, in comparison with the national averages. And if the actual stated rates are not impressive, it is not unusual for Sergeants to decline promotion so as to continue to be eligible for overtime and bonuses. Recent reports of officers claiming four hours of overtime pay for receiving a telephone call when off-duty do not suggest that such calls might be reciprocated when that officer returns to duty and his mate is then off-duty. However, the overtime payments to the police are enormous. [see this story here]
And the police are armed, with officers patrolling with weapons in their cars and, often, visibly armed on the streets. There are specialist units that will attend, that seem to be increasingly able to kill civilians and not be found at fault. No longer will British police attempt to disarm anybody. They shoot to kill civilians. They are not successfully prosecuted and appear to evade sanction even when the evidence given by other members of the public contradicts that of the police force. There have been many deaths in police custody and deaths on British streets after the deceased has been in contact with police officers, yet no police officers are imprisoned. Ian Tomlinson, who died as he attempted to walk home during a G20 demonstration that he was not a part of, was filmed as he was pushed to the ground by a police officer, yet the officer involved was not even prosecuted.
Photographers have testified that they are routinely harassed by police at events where there might be incidents. A senior member of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Hogg, has even been required to write to all of the police forces in Britain in an attempt to dampen down the enthusiasm with which the police pursue photographers. Of course, photographers might be able to supply evidence that would contradict that given by the police officers themselves.
It was such evidence that called into question the statements given about Tomlinson by the Head of London's police force. Now, the photographers are stopped and searched, with the police using anti-terrorism legislation. But even when they must know that they are being filmed, the police appear to act with impunity. Recently, police officers presumably believed that it was appropriate to assault a woman in a videoed police station. Scarcely an intelligent thing to do, if they expected that they might be brought to account for it.
If they are contradicted, they have set up what amounts to campaigns, to discredit their detractors, as three very well qualified paediatricians who regularly serve as expert witnesses for defence councils have found. [See the story]
Such dubious methods are now commonplace. While a telephone or other such 'wiretap' will require an order from a judge, the police themselves authorise undercover 'agent provocateurs' to spy upon groups of citizens. Note that they are citizens, not criminals and consider the implications for democracy.
One can complain, after the event, if it has not killed you. The IPCC, 'Independent Police Complaints Commission' does review police actions. That is, they supervise one police force reviewing the case that involved another police force. Given the difficulty in forcing through an IPCC complaint, the member of the public must have some semblance of a case and be very determined, yet proportionately very few cases find fault with the police. No surprises there then. But one would not expect Dixon of Dock Green to be ever wrong. Just be aware that the next time you ask a British Tazer and gun toting police officer the time, (if you can persuade him from his car) perhaps the response will be "time to consider me an enemy of democracy."