Mary Dejevsky: Police who loiter without intent

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The Independent Online

Waiting at the bus-stop a few days ago, I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye a slightly odd team coming by – the sort that, justifiably or not, rings little alarm bells. They were two lads who looked of an age when they should have been at school. One had his hood up and was riding a bike, very slowly, that seemed just a fraction too small. The other walked alongside.

I had also noted, out of the corner of my other eye, one of those police Community Support Officers you sometimes chance upon in gaggles appearing not to do very much. He seemed not to be patrolling so much as loitering in the manner of these cruelly nicknamed "plastic policemen". But that judgement turned out to be unfair, when he turned briskly around, pursued the single-cycle duo and told the rider, nicely, he shouldn't ride on the pavement. The young man offered a mock salute, dismounted, and the pair went on their way.

There were two of us at the bus-stop and we exchanged approving glances. We had finally seen a CSO doing what we thought he was there for. Except that it wasn't quite like that. The CSO returned to where he had been standing, and the hoodie – now 30 yards away – got back on his bike, offered a two-fingered wave and pedalled off down the middle of the pavement.

My bus-stop companion shook her head and ventured thoughts about bad parenting. I went back to the CSO and asked why, having made such a splendid effort on the low-level anti-social behaviour front, he had negated it all by not following up. What was the purpose of his being there at all – at my expense as a council taxpayer – if his intervention was ridiculed? Politely, he said he would be keeping an eye on them.

I witnessed this little microcosm of community policing in the Horseferry Road, a central London street I walk along most days. I have a soft spot for the name, conjuring up – as it does – sepia-tinted images of cart-horses clip-clopping towards what is now Lambeth Bridge and was once, presumably, a ferry.

Anyway, Horseferry Road has on it, in order back from the Thames: MI5, the energy regulator Ofgem (though their addresses are both in Millbank), the headquarters of Burberry, the court that, alas, restyled itself Westminster magistrates' court, the Department for Transport, the south entrance of the Home Office/Ministry of Justice and Westminster Coroner's Court. There are also sundry shops and sandwich bars, a bank (where beggars with dogs compete for the pitch below the cash-point), a couple of betting shops (why two?), and – a recent addition – a Boris bikes stand.

All of which prompts the thought: if the guardians of law and order cannot or will not hold the line here, what about elsewhere? Does a Community Support Officer who is routinely ignored represent value for money? How much deterrence or reassurance does he really offer?

The Metropolitan Police also have a Safer Neighbourhood scheme here. I learnt of this from a small notice in the window of Starbucks, which said police held regular meetings with residents and directed us to an adjacent poster. The problem is that the meetings are in the early afternoons, when many local residents may not be around, and there is no adjacent poster. As I say, if they can't get their act together here – which is also only a short walk from New Scotland Yard – you have to wonder where they can.

Sam Cams here, there and everywhere

Have you noticed? There's a new look around, and it belongs to Samantha Cameron. Suddenly, it seems, Sam Cams, or rather her look-alikes, are all over the place. Turn on the television, and every other female presenter now has the bouncy mid-length brown hair, the faux-natural fresh complexion and the modestly downcast eyes of Downing Street's new chatelaine. They are proliferating in high street advertising, too.

The last time I can just about remember that any single "look" so dominated the scene was when Diana, Princess of Wales and her layered blonde bob ruled the front pages of the women's magazines. Like Princess Di, Mrs Cameron has something of everywoman or the grown-up girl next door, while always looking a massive lot better. It's an enviable trait, unless – I suppose – she hoped to be forever a one-off, in which case it's past time to change that hair.

They have a dream – but only to patronise the poor

Discussing the £7bn the Coalition has said it will put into schooling for poor children, Nick Clegg said this: "What we want... is a school system that gives every single child a chance to get ahead, to live out their dreams, to fulfil their potential, irrespective of where they live, irrespective of where they were born." Who could possibly argue with that?

With the sentiments perhaps not, but with the language of "getting ahead" and "fulfilling dreams"? Yes, I put up my hand. These are pernicious borrowings from the American canon, where destructive competition and unrealistic expectations are the norm. There's nothing wrong with nurturing ambitions or fulfilling potential or seizing opportunities. But the dream rhetoric, I find as patronising as it is dishonest. I doubt that politicians (or anyone else for that matter) speak at Eton, say, or Clegg's own alma mater, Westminster School, and urge pupils to "live out their dreams". Nor would you use that language with students at Oxbridge. The "dream" language is one way in which the privileged try to bridge the gap with the disadvantaged. Aspiration might be a better word, and one within more realistic grasp.