Comedian David Mitchell wrote an article in The Guardian recently in which he was generally disparaging of the police read it here
After reading the article I said to my wife ‘David Mitchell really doesn’t like the police’ her response was ‘What do you expect? He’s a liberal. They don’t like the police generally’ Is this true? It seems, to a degree, that it is. The police represent authority, discipline and justice. They can appear as the antithesis of the most basic principles of Liberalism: Liberty, equality, freedom and civil rights but my argument is that without the police democracy could not work.
I have a unique perspective on the subject because I am a serving police officer with a Home Counties service.
Civil liberties and freedom are important and the mark of a true democratic society. I believe police officers, certainly those I’ve worked with, value freedom and democracy a great deal and police our streets not to chasten or bully but to serve the public, save lives and keep people safe. The law was not written to repress people but to protect them. That includes people from all walks of life. In the line of duty I have been threatened, abused and assaulted but I have also been earnestly thanked for the hard work I’ve done and been told I’ve made a difference in people’s lives. So why is it that people who claim to love freedom criticise the police so much?
There have been instances in the past where police officers have acted dishonestly, broken the law and even been responsible for deaths. Believe me when I say terrible events like these are just as abhorrent to the average constable on the street as it is anyone else. Police officers make mistakes, we are human, it is wrong to try to cover them up but it is also wrong to judge every police officer as unsafe, criminal or incompetent because of the misconduct of a few. The majority are hard working and decent.
The police have to operate in a certain way to tackle crime and the manner in which they operate can sometimes bring them into conflict with the public over a misunderstanding. By way of example A police team will be told by their supervisor that an area has been targeted for burglary; a particularly nasty crime which is devastating to the victim. Intelligence says the burglaries are happening late at night by someone on foot. An unmarked car is sent to that area with specific instructions to stop and search (if grounds exist) anyone found in that area. This is the exact situation I found myself in when I stopped a young man last week. I was polite and courteous to him and explained why he had been stopped, I told him what police were hoping to achieve that night. Despite this he was unhappy about the situation and very curt. A colleague tried to make small talk to reduce tension and be friendly. The man rudely interrupted him and said “Why are you talking to me?” my colleague, a little taken aback, said “Just trying to be friendly” the man replied, with some venom “You’re harassing me, I don’t like coppers” I said “Why?” he replied “I don’t like any coppers after that De Menezes shooting” this man wasn’t a criminal, there were no records of him on our database, he had been stopped but not searched and informed we were trying to tackle burglary in the area he lives in but he still felt the need to be confrontational. This is what we face every day; a public who increasingly dislike cooperating with and understanding the position of, the police. From a police perspective stopping this person was perfectly lawful and reasonable under the circumstances but to him it was an unnecessary invasion of his privacy. He probably went home and told his family and friends how he was ‘harassed’ by the police for just going about his business.
It is vital a good relationship exists between the public and the police. There is a popular saying in the service that we could not do our jobs without the consent of the public and it’s perfectly true. Instead of pointing fingers and criticising, both the public and the police need to work harder at building and developing mutual respect, understanding and support for each other.
I know the Liberal Democrats value the police; it is reassuring to know that Liberals in government will continue to strive to support us in these challenging times.
‘The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.
* The author is a serving police officer writing under a psudonym