Here are some friendships that police officers do not have to disclose. Friendships with politicians. Friendships with senior media executives. Friendships with business people, lawyers, judges, and press officers. Here are some that they do have to disclose. Friendships with criminals. Friendships with suspects. Friendships with private detectives. And, as per the College of Policing’s new guidelines, friendships with journalists.
These aren’t, let’s note, working relationships. These are friendships. So let’s say a police officer’s best mate at school went on to work at a newspaper. She goes on the list. Let’s say she married a reporter. He goes on the list. Let’s say her son is an editorial assistant at Nuts, or The Lady, or Computer Shopper. So does he. They are all, so says the College of Policing, “notifiable associations”. The paragraph concerning such associations in the new guidelines is short, and entirely lacking in explanation of how they will be used. But it is safe to assume that it’s not to help with the invitations for the next Christmas party.
You’ll think this biased, maybe, but it seems to me that there’s a category error here. Even at our very worst, after all – which, yes, can be pretty bad – journalists are still fundamentally trying to find things out; and yet, if the police are to be believed, they are more inherently worthy of suspicion than members of any number of other professions who are very likely to want to keep things covered up.
There are, of course, circumstances in which a particular officer’s professional relationship with the press might reasonably be subjected to scrutiny. But to extend that logic to personal relationships is not only excessive, and invasive: it smacks of ignorance. Police officers – and, indeed, journalists – should be able to make friends without declaring them unless there is a very good argument to the contrary. And no one who has seen how journalists really work – which is not by pumping their friends and family for scoops, but instead by cultivating the trust of the people who know the most about their beat – could possibly think that the mere existence of a reporter in a police’s social circle is in itself reason for suspicion.
The College of Policing could argue, I guess, that the paragraph in question is so innocuous that only the paranoid, or guilty, could see a threat in it. But it’s that very baldness that is scary. It suggests that the cops can be obliged to disclose their private lives for no good reason. I am, accordingly, relieved not to be among them, and I suppose I will reluctantly shy away from their friendship in future, and try my best to avoid marrying one. The rest of us don’t live in a police state. But they certainly do.