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Police Under Pressure, BBC2 - TV review: 'A police patrol gives a valuable insight into life on the frontline'


Everyone in the BBC2 documentary Police Under Pressure was so downcast that they made the police drama Happy Valley look like escapist fantasy. Then again, in the summer of 2013, South Yorkshire Police had a lot to be miserable about: the legacy of the Hillsborough disaster, some of the worst crime figures in the country and large gangs of teenagers with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

This visit to the troubled areas of Parson Cross and Page Hall in Sheffield gave us an in-depth understanding of local tensions and the drawbacks of a "Section 30" – the temporary order that gives police power to disperse groups suspected of anti-social behaviour. It's all for naught, though, when no one can provide a clear definition of what "anti-social" actually means. Does congregating outside a chip shop count? Or is that simply exercising the basic freedoms to which a citizen is entitled? In Page Hall this disagreement has taken on an unpleasant racial tinge. How depressing to hear British-Asian men borrow EDL rhetoric to condemn more recently arrived immigrants (Eastern European Roma, in this case).

At least the reliably moronic EDL were good for some light relief. They had organised a march protesting against the conversion of a derelict pub in the city into a mosque, only the pub wasn't actually being converted into a mosque; it was being converted into a branch of the fast-food chain KFC. I don't know about you, but nothing makes me start calling for the introduction of "Muslamic" Sharia law like a Zinger Tower Burger with too much zing.

There is a strand of thought among anti-police brutality campaigners that all the likeable, hero cops we see on television colour the public's view of the force, making us predisposed to take their side. If that's true, what effect does a sympathetic documentary like Police Under Pressure have? Certainly it had none of the glamour or action of a US police procedural. Instead, the general mood was one of long-term frustration. As government cutbacks cause their numbers to dwindle dangerously, beat coppers like Christine have all the authority of a lollipop lady. "You might as well just withdraw from the area because you make a target of yourself," she said gloomily.

At first, I thought the endless shots of dark foreboding clouds rolling across the council estate sky were an indulgent artistic flourish, but the more I saw of Police Under Pressure, the more I understood. These bleak Yorkshire skies were a perfect match for the bleak future of neighbourhood policing.