Friday, 23 September 2011

An apology to the police

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.


  1. George,

    Gutsy, young man, gutsy. You get serious brownie points for holding up your hands and admitting that you might have been a bit wrong.

    And, considering you've had a rather trying twenty-four hours, you're doing pretty well.

  2. I heartily endorse what Lady Mark has said. Everyone makes mistakes, it's how they handle them that shows true character.

    And you are definitely one of the good guys.

  3. @Mark and Caron

    Thanks - being able to admit it when I've made a mistake is something I've been trying to learn for the past few months and I'm glad that I've made some progress.

    Also Mark, I had time to read your comment on the original post which caused all of this. Thanks very much for your advice and I am actually working on all of those points. Apart from the falling in love one - still need a breathing space there - though I'm optimistic that will change when it's ready to.

    Thanks again to both of you and I'd like to say sorry again for any worry or concern I've caused (and I know I've been apologising a lot lately so I promise that'll be the last one).


  4. George,

    Quite right about the falling in love bit. I've done it twice - the first time it crashed and burned pretty spectacularly (partly my fault, I'll admit), but it seems to have worked out this time (fingers crossed!).

    Love turns up when, and where, you least expect it. So, rule nothing in, and nothing out. Just keep doing what you do, be true to yourself, and everything will work out.

    Perhaps Caron and I should do an agony aunt column for Lib Dem Voice...


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.