A searching spotlight has been directed on to police in recent weeks as a result of the recent riots. It is true to say they are all that stands between us and anarchy, since we are not a militarised state with a large standing army. (We have always found work for the latter to do far from our shores.) But anarchy did, indeed, descend on us 4 weeks ago and for a while the nation trembled at the thought that it was running out of control. What disturbed it most was not the perception, funnily enough, that rioters were on the rampage, but that the police were powerless to stop them. Let us be clear about one thing: it was not lack of numbers which created the difficulty; at 143,000 officers the police are 50,000 greater in numbers than when they faced down the miners. What it all comes down to is how those numbers were deployed. I was shocked to learn the other day that the time of greatest police deployment was on a Monday morning and the time of least was on a Friday or Saturday night. What is going on? It seems to me that the police are working themselves into an office mindset whereby they see themselves as a basically 9am to 5pm operation with overtime paid for unsocial hours. I was even more shocked to learn that in one constabulary almost half of all officers make no arrests in a whole year. And other constabularies perform in similarly dismal fashion.
What the public craves above everything is a visible presence on the streets and it has begged for this for years. But Plod wishes not to plod any more. It’s highly unglamorous and a little demeaning. Much better a high speed chase, lights a flashing and siren screaming. Now that’s glamour! In between times there’s cruising the streets in their costly, often alloy-wheeled cars (preferably with a pretty young thing for company) and seeing not a lot as they pass. The public wishes to see the money which is extracted from it under duress spent responsibly. It does not regard two officers ‘patrolling’ safe areas while they chat away to each other not noticing much as money well spent.
We know that gang culture blights our larger cities, but what do the police do when the Prime Minister wants to engage the services of a proven gang buster from the States and put him in charge of the rudderless Met? They throw up their arms and say ‘we’re not having a foreigner coming over and telling us what to do’. They know a game changer when they see it; he would be jumping on their Spanish Practices and spoiling everything. Indeed, a few years ago a South African policeman came to work at one of the constabularies. He took his job seriously and his arrest rate was light years ahead of his colleagues. What happened? He was sidelined and virtually sent to Coventry. He left in disgust. We have 43 Constabularies in Britain and the crime clear up rate in some are, again, light years better than others. Were this to be the case in a company, the CEO would descend like the Furies on the laggards: heads would roll and things would change. Nothing less than a rout-and-branch shake-up of the police is required.
But it is certainly not all their own fault. They have been blown this way and that way by the armies of bleeding hearts, health & safety directives, race & equality demands, box-ticking requirements, political correctness and courts who make their bringing to trial efforts a joke by handing down laughably lenient sentences. Even their dropping of the term Force in favour of Police Service tells you how confused they are. They cannot any longer be seen to project an image of firmness. They are ‘At Your Service’, if you please! But there is one area of law enforcement in which the police do show genuine zeal. That is their pursuit of the motorist. A hugely disproportionate level of resources are devoted to motoring offenses. Is it, I wonder, because they are easy pickings? Like shooting pop-up ducks at a fairground. The British motorist is the perfect customer: he goes quietly, is not abusive, and best of all never violent. What is never recognised is that he is the most considerate driver in the entire world with a death rate which reflects this. My Baltic wife, when we married ten years ago and she came to live here, remarked how willingly people gave way on our roads and even gave a little return wave when they were thanked for their kindness. She said such gentlemanly behaviour would be unthinkable in her country. An elected head of each constabulary – answerable for his or her own performance, with real powers of hire and fire in the top echelons – would be a good start and could work wonders. And a Home Secretary who would stand up to the vested interests within the Force and say to them that the vacant post of head of the Met was open to all, foreigners included, would also help. What does it say of David Cameron that he meekly acquiesced in his Home Secretary’s refusal to look for the best wherever it could be found? I doubt that Mrs. Thatcher would have tolerated that sort of cheek from her Home Secretary, or even Gordon Brown for that matter.