Bad practice has fertile ground in which to flourish in the police force

In my time with access to the Metropolitan Police, sometimes officers would let the polite mask would slip

Share

Damien Green, the police minister, has called on officers to
be polite when dealing with the public.

It will be an uphill task. Put people in uniform and invest them with even a modest authority over the rest of us, and human nature soon asserts itself. Consider what the US love affair with ‘Homeland Security’ has done to the officials who man their immigration service with a now almost unbridled arrogance.

Some years ago I wrote a book about the police, and the Metropolitan Police very kindly allowed me total access for six months to a London division. I got to know and like the cops with whom I rubbed shoulders, but I was well aware that they were well aware who I was and what I was doing. It was, therefore, unlikely that anyone would be highhanded with the public when I was around.

Occasionally however, I would be among officers who either did not know me or were unaware of what I was doing, and the mask would slip. I saw a PC swearing at a member of the public in aggressive and unpleasant terms, and put the incident into the book. After publication, a very senior officer asked to see me and went through points with which he took issue, including this anecdote.

The man might have been having a rough patch at home; a relation might have died; he could have witnessed a distressing scene earlier in his shift, he argued. To which I replied that we all suffer from personal traumas, but we would not tolerate extreme rudeness on that account from (say) a receptionist at a hotel or a shop assistant. If such a person swore at us, we would quickly be complaining to his/her boss. With the police most simply bite their lips and move away. And officers know it.

The police reputation (and especially that of the Met) has been much tarnished in recent times by revelations, such as the alleged attempt to discredit Stephen Lawrence’s family. These sins have their roots in the belief (among certain officers) that they are fireproof. This doesn’t start with the major wrong-doings now hitting the headlines, but with the culture into which young officers are plunged when they join.

It may sound fanciful to suggest that there is a direct link between rudeness (the police are extremely class conscious, tending, though not always getting it right, to behave best when dealing with educated people) and serious malpractice. But cops stick together – they spend hours in each other’s company reinforcing their prejudices – so bad practice has time and fertile ground in which to flourish.

The police hold society together; think of the anarchy that would rapidly reign if there were no one to answer our pleas for help and to keep us all on the straight and narrow. But it can be (and often is) done with a smile, not a snarl. Dixon of Dock Green may be long gone, but the occasional ‘Evening all’ would be welcome.

Robert Chesshyre books include ‘The Force: Inside the Police’, and, most recently, ‘When the Iron Lady Ruled Britain'

Twitter: @rchesshyre

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Secondary teachers needed for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Head of Technology

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Technology needed for a Outsta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits