There is a growing culture of fear in Great Britain today; fear of burglary, fear of assault, fear of our neighbours, fear of our neighbour’s neighbour, fear of attack from across the oceans. The list is long and deeply paranoid. Yet who can we turn to in these turbulant and violent times?
Government Ministers will tell you to turn to your friendly bobby on the beat for help, those heroes of our streets who are responsible for the apparent drop in violent crime since the New Labour government came into power. Turn to the boys in blue for protection, a safe and comfortable pair of arms to nestle in. But who do the police go to when they are afraid? Or do they just cower away in their coffee rooms, immersing themselves in the less threatening pile of paperwork that they must sift through?
Recently I was surprised by the sight of two patrol cars and at least ten fully armoured PCs surrounding one of the bus stops on my route. ‘What could they possibly be doing here?’ I wondered. ‘Perhaps there is a violent felon somewhere on this bus.’ I looked around me trying to spot a suspicious looking escaped convict or a potential murderer, but most of the people looked like me; calm and bored following a days work. The bus driver was forced to stop as these ten bullet proof vest wearing officers conducted a ‘routine’ search for drugs which seemed to entail pulling black youths off the top deck on the off chance they had a joint on them. Now, the chance of anyone sitting at the top, especially on the back row, having a joint, even smoking a joint, on my bus route is fairly high, but certainly not worth taking up ten officer’s time messing about with.
As I was thinking this I glanced out of the window and saw a group of about 15 to 20 youths, obviously trespassing by jumping over a fence which seperated the road from a garden. It must have been a nursery or something similar as the gang were pulling out huge plastic garden toys and slinging them into the road with gay abandon. Unsuspecting cars were smashing into these unexpected bollards or swerving dangerously to avoid them, and the chances of a fatality at any moment seemed even more likely than finding someone in posession of marijuana on my bus. But the police force obviously had their priorities, and by the time they had waved us on the gang had dispersed leaving little more than shattered, colourful plastic in the road.
I mused on this that night, and my mind raced back to my other rather unfortunate encounter with Her Majesty’s Police Force earlier in the year following a mugging I had been the victim of.
I only wanted to report the mugging so that I could get a crime number and receive a new phone on my insurance. I knew it was pointless pursuing the case to get a conviction against my assailant as, I am slightly ashamed to admit, I was too drunk to remember any details that would help an investigation. In fact, this was the first thing I explained to PC Plod who came to take my statement. He wanted all of the details I could remember though, going right back to what I had been doing before the attack, why I was there and who I was with. Also he asked me how much I had been drinking that night, and my faith in the Police dropped when I told him I had had a number of double vodkas and he stopped his scribbling to ask me how ‘vodka’ was spelt. It’s the kind of word that even an infant could speculate as to the spelling of and the next two hours (the length of time it took him to write four pages of notes on the issue) really dragged for me as I slowly lost the will to live.
The problem with the police seems to be similar to the problem that the NHS is experiencing. The government has placed too much emphasis on doing things the correct or ‘proper’ way, with paperwork having too much importance placed on it and league tables hindering progress rather than aiding it, because the focus is shifted from the real job at hand to painting a picture that makes things seem as though the job at hand is being addressed and dealt with by professionals. In this way, when a member of the public complains that they feel that their police force is not performing to the standards they expect of it, MPs can easily refer them to folders stuffed full of statistics to prove that, in fact, they are performing exactly as they are supposed to – in many cases, better than they are supposed to.
Another problem that the Police must deal with is the insolence and arrogance of a generation of what are essentially minors, who have no respect for the law because they know full well that they cannot be touched by it, especially if a PC was to clobber them for beating up an old man for his bus money – the implications of a PC hitting a minor would be massive, and the media hype that would follow it would overshadow the real crime of an attack on a defenceless pensioner. These kids are also quite threatening as they live by the pack mentality which makes them quite a force to be reckoned with. There is strength in numbers, and courage too. I have come up against a group of about twelve 14-year-olds on the top deck of a bus and been bombarded with rolled up newspapers, bottles and eventually, when I tried to reason with them, fists. Had there been just three or four of them then I could have dealt with the problem; I knew it and they knew it. But with more than ten of them I stood no chance, and they knew this also.
This kind of thinking may explain the negligence of some police officers and the resulting growing threat of violent youths on our streets.
But this is a very negative piece, it throws up too many problems and provides no solutions. What can we do? Recently I went to see the new ‘Batman’ film and became quite impassioned by the vigilante spirit of Bruce Wayne. Perhaps if we take to the streets and try and deal with the injustices we see ourselves it will inspire the police force to take to the streets and leave the desk work behind. Besides, it’s always better to feel that you’re working with rather than against something.
This vigilante approach worked here in Birmingham when families living in the Red Light Disrtict who had become tired of their kids being exposed to harrassment by curbcrawlers literally chased the prostitutes away. If they came back they would be chased away again until eventually the problem in that particular area of the city was reduced to virtually nothing, making it a more attractive place to live for families. Obviously this problem was shifted elsewhere but if everyone took this approach of zero tolerence, perhaps we could work together and clean up this country ourselves.