So, I've not always been entirely friendly to the police on the blog. In fact, when I think of the posts I have written mentioning the police, they've mostly been fairly critical of the police. And that's because most of those posts have dealt with how the police have handled various protesters and, like all things, it's very easy to criticise when they've got it wrong but rather less blog worthy when they've got it right.
But that's not really fair of me at all. I've always said that the police were like anyone else - that there were good police officers and bad police officers. But, given that I grew up under New Labour, disregard for civil liberties and the database state, I have to confess that I've tended to view the police through the prism of making politically targeted arrests and through clamping down on the right to protest and the right to free speech. And there's no doubt in my mind that this has been done a lot and that, to put it bluntly, a lot of police officers at protests (especially those in London) are thugs. Knowing as I do someone who was part of a peaceful protest containing toddlers which was kettled and shoved by Metropolitan police officers, I think I can safely say that the police do get things quite considerably wrong.
But that's not the case most of the time. Most police officers join the police because they want to serve society and protect it. Most police officers are very decent and very good people who do what is, and always will be, a very difficult job.
Two things recently really made this hit home to me. The first was that I read this anonymous account by a police officer who arrived on the scene of a car crash and had to watch a driver trapped in his car burn to death while being unable to save him. And who then had to put up with members of the public getting short and high-handed with him because the police had closed off the road. It's very moving and it really made me appreciate the kind of things a police officer must see in the line of duty and how it must affect them. That police officers witness and deal with terrible things and then go straight back to work the next day is incredible, quite frankly, and they are a credit both to policing and the nation. That's my opinion anyway.
The other thing was that, because of an incident which occurred last night (I'm not going to link to it, find it yourself if you're that interested), someone was afraid I was suicidal and might be trying to kill myself. They contacted the police and also contacted someone in the party who knew me. As a result, I was woken by a phone call from Edinburgh police concerned about my welfare. This means that they went through the whole process of finding out my phone number and ringing me just to check whether I was okay - and the police didn't have any special interest in me. I was just an ordinary citizen and yet they went through all that time and effort just in case I was feeling suicidal. Wow. That really reminds you just what a job the police do and the time and resources they dedicate to trying to protect or help people.
And then, half an hour later, I got a phone call from Surrey police who, having had the situation explained to them, decided to get Sussex police to send two police officers out to physically check I was okay as well. And, needless to say, the two officers who turned up were very polite and pleasant and friendly - despite the fact that it was the middle of the night.
So, aside from feeling like a complete dick for putting the police and others to all that trouble and concern for nothing, it's really been a big reminder of just what sterling work the police do. And it's certainly made me seriously reconsider my tendency to be suspicious of any police officer I see.
I'm not going to pretend there aren't still bad police officers (I'm still reserving my judgement on the Met after seeing the way they treat peaceful protesters) but the vast majority of them are brilliant people. Quite possibly heroes. And for the first time now I'll mean it wholeheartedly when I say "the vast majority of police officers are good people".
Two final thoughts. My suspicion of the police stems partly from the fact that I never had any proper contact with them before last week. They were this rarely seen but powerful organisation that could arrest you and send you to prison. The heavy-handed arm of the law. They all wore the same uniform and were interchangeable. It was only contact with the police (for example, asking directions from a police officer in Birmingham) that made me realise they weren't this faceless organisation but a group of mostly helpful individuals. The other thought is that I imagine that there are many people who share my earlier suspicion and wariness of the police. I imagine that, like myself, most of those people have never had any contact with a police officer that wasn't related either to being a victim of crime or being a suspect. The police tend to be isolated from our communities now, in cars and police stations, or as an armoured presence at demonstrations. Very rarely do you see them on the streets amongst the communities they serve. And it's that isolation that I think goes a long way to explaining the mistrust of police by many communities in this country. And that's a crying shame because, as I've so recently realised, most police officers don't exist to make life difficult, but to try and do their best to protect and serve society. They might not always get it right but no one is perfect.
So, basically, I've come to realise what a brilliant job the police do. I imagine they get thanked only rarely for what they do so I just want to say a big thank you to all of them. Having come across some occasional police cases at my job (long story, won't go into it) I know that I couldn't cope with a tenth of what they have to handle and I'm so glad that they keep most of us from ever encountering these things. I'm really grateful to them for that and I'm ashamed of my earlier wariness of them.