The Dianafication of the police force
From police cuts to Plebgate, where does the Old Bill get off presenting itself as a poor little put-upon victim?
‘I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official.’
So recounted the official report of an unnamed police officer. He was describing his feelings after government chief whip Andrew Mitchell verbally attacked him following the officer’s request for Mitchell to dismount his bicycle at the gates to Downing Street. This officer has since accepted Mitchell’s apology. However, senior police representatives have called for Mitchell’s resignation, complaining that ‘someone… who apparently holds the police in such contempt, is not deserving of such high office’. The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation whined: ‘[This incident] just emphasises what we have felt for some time, that there is an inbuilt dislike of the police service in general.’ Another representative complained that the police ‘feel they have once again been treated with a lack of respect and civility’. And the Surrey Police Federation took to Twitter to complain that ‘[Mitchell] is a bully’.
A bully? Was it in Downing Street where this incident took place, or the school playground? Are these tormented children, or officers of the law? Judging by the police’s reaction to Mitchell, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell. Are the Old Bill really unable to cope with a tirade from a Basil Fawlty-esque government official without their feelings being irrevocably hurt?
It seems not. Indeed, such has been the volume of arrests for people swearing at policemen recently that last year the Met Police had to offer new guidelines, outlined by the Daily Mail: ‘[A] prosecution for swearing will be lost without “compelling evidence of a person within sight or hearing likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. It adds that this is “very unlikely to be you [the police officer]”.’
The fact that the police now need to be told that it is very unlikely to be them who are suffering ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ speaks volumes about the state of contemporary cops. And yet the guidelines were met with much whining among officers about how ‘they no longer get the respect and support they deserve’. Don’t you realise that PC Plod has feelings and emotions, too? Can’t someone protect the police from the nasty, abusive public?
Yet when policemen cast themselves as sensitive souls, is the lack of respect they receive from society really a surprise? Who would respect a policeman who balks at being called a pleb, and helps turn a minor kerfuffle at the gates of Downing Street into a national incident? Indeed, who would respect a police force which, at a time of crisis such as last summer’s riots, were, even in the words of the Tories, ‘timid’ in their response? Back then, the police seemed more interested in protecting their own hides and adhering to health-and-safety regulations than putting the rioters in their place. Seemingly no longer content with policing anti-cuts protesters, earlier this year the police began to emulate them, with 30,000 officers taking to the streets to complain about government cuts with banners declaring ‘don’t ConDem policing’ and ‘Enough is Enough’.
Despite the tragic nature of the shootings of two female officers in Manchester last week, the transformation of that incident into a Princess Diana-style affair, with ‘officers in floods of tears at the scene’ and senior policemen complaining that politicians’ condolences sound ‘hollow’, suggests that the police force now seems more comfortable parading its victimhood than maintaining law and order at all costs.
Bereft of traditional forms of authority, the police force now appears to be trying to gain a semblance of authority and dignity through casting itself as the victim, whether of cuts, of vicious gun-wielding murderers, of the abusive public, or even of bully-boy government officials throwing insults at them in Latin. Such a tactic will invariably backfire, and policemen stand to lose even more of their standing in the community. After all, who wants objects of pity patrolling the streets? You don’t have to want a return of corrupt head-banging Gene Hunt types ruling the streets to think the police need more backbone. This cop-out by increasingly thin-skinned coppers will benefit no one.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter @p_hayes.