TELEVISION (Review): A policewoman's lot is not a happy one

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The Independent Culture
THE VERY good news, as revealed on Critical Eye's 'Service with a Smile' (C4), is that if you are shot by an armed policewoman at Heathrow Airport, help will be immediately at hand.

'On our belt we carry a wound-dressing kit,' said one such officer, her Heckler & Koch machine pistol cradled comfortably across her bosom. 'So if we do shoot someone, we can be first on the scene to apply first aid.'

Thirty years ago, women police officers were not allowed to carry truncheons. Now, partly thanks to the invention of the personal radio which allows them to summon muscle in extremis, they are expected to do exactly the same duties as their male colleagues. And, if the programme is to be believed, more.

'All I have to do is raise an eyebrow, or look over my glasses, and they stop,' said one senior woman officer explaining her disorder-management technique. Place a woman in a crisis, the programme reckoned, and they are less likely to be confrontational, more likely to effect a peaceful solution than the blundering, bully-boy tactics favoured by their male mates. Oil on troubled waters rather than an Alka-Seltzer popped into the foam.

'I walked in and there was this man, bare-chested, waving a bar stool over his head,' was typical of the anecdotal evidence of women on the job. 'I tried to speak to him like I was his mother or his sister. But before I said anything, he took one look at me and put down the stool.'

Easy job, then. Just send matron in.

Unfortunately, the programme went on, many male police officers are not as compliant as bar-stool-wielding thugs. It traced the catalogue of sexism that is the policewoman's lot. Alison Halford, perhaps the most famous of those who have claimed discrimination, was persuasive in her argument that the male police establishment is simply frightened that women will break up their cosy little world.

During her time as deputy chief constable of Merseyside Police, she claimed, her phone was tapped, her office bugged, her reputation slandered: at one moment, the lies went, she was a lesbian, the next she was giving relief to desk sergeants. If it's true, then God knows what they do to the criminal. Not a lot presumably: they don't have the resources left.

According to Beatrix Campbell, of this parish, Alison Halford's great strength was that she appreciated the police force needed 'more than macho intuition'. Some feminine intuition, perhaps, like that involved in the honey-trap in which the poor sop Colin Stagg was wrongly ensnared for the murder of Rachel Nickell. That was the fundamental problem with this wholly eulogising, wholly uncritical account. There were no corrupt, racist, lousy or thick women officers in its orbit. Women were, it was taken as read, superior to men in every aspect of policing simply because they were, well, female.

That's what they needed to do in Newcastle, clearly: put a bunch of Beatrix's bobbettes on the case. There was the Northumberland Police plodding its way through an investigation into stolen cars accompanied by cameras from Inside Story's 'Car Squad' (BBC 1), and there was only one woman in the inquiry team. Oddly, the male police officers on the trail of a bunch of sophisticated criminals who buy nicked cars and then sell them on to bargain-hunters as legitimate (a sort of motor-laundering operation) seemed rather tactful and caring.

'It's an awful job, this,' said a detective who had just impounded a car from a weeping woman who had bought it not knowing it was stolen. 'The only contact a nice person like that will probably ever have with a policeman and it's negative.' Unless they watched Critical Eye, that is.