Terence Blacker: Our new-found respect for the filth

Suddenly those in the police force seem to lead something of a charmed life
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The Independent Online

If I had followed my father's career advice, delivered at a moment of uncharacteristic parental anxiety as I blundered my way through my twenties, I would now be a policeman. Other professional options had been ruled out. The army faced an uncertain future. The City required at least a modicum of interest in the subject of money. No, if I wanted to do something useful and take advantage of a rapidly expanding market, then it was a rozzer's life for me.

If I had followed my father's career advice, delivered at a moment of uncharacteristic parental anxiety as I blundered my way through my twenties, I would now be a policeman. Other professional options had been ruled out. The army faced an uncertain future. The City required at least a modicum of interest in the subject of money. No, if I wanted to do something useful and take advantage of a rapidly expanding market, then it was a rozzer's life for me.

At the time, I was outraged by the idea that I might want to join the filth. Today I can see that the idea was what we call counter-intuitive. The role of the police would become increasingly central and important to our world, my father thought, and of course he was right.

According to our Prime Minister, and many others, the bolshie, questioning attitudes of the 1960s have seeped down the years, causing an erosion of civilised values. Authority is now a fine and good thing, a bulwark against the evils of the age, which range from hooded yahoos to international terrorists. It is the police who are our protection against a perilous world; without them, those two great political watchwords, respect and security, would be little more than hot air.

Meanwhile, the force itself seems to be having rather a good time. A new initiative, which will take place in the bars and car parks of village pubs around Bristol over the summer, will see teams of male and female constables pairing off and acting the part of romantic couples while on the lookout out for potential drink-driving offenders.

The local chief inspector, while helpfully revealing the sort of evidence of over-drinking that his team will be looking for - "the telltale signs will be if someone is slurring their speech, staggering or smelling of alcohol," he announced - has not given details as to how far the officers' impersonation of courting couples is supposed to go.

I wonder if this plan has been adequately thought through. If villages in that area are anything like those in East Anglia, a man and a woman, together in a car late at night in a pub car park can only mean one thing - one of the now-fashionable dogging parties is about to take place. Are police constables really going to be expected to dog with locals in order to avoid blowing their cover?

Fortunately, if the stake-out is rumbled, the two operatives on Operation Courting Couple will be able to make good their getaway without the slightest risk of being prosecuted for speeding. For, to judge from recent stories, there is only one mitigating circumstance that will be accepted by prosecutors in speed-camera cases - that you happen to be a policeman.

Last week, for example, the backlog of speeding cases in Derbyshire was considerably helped by the removal of all 59 instances involving police drivers; blue lights were not flashing while the car was speeding, nor were sirens being sounded, but in every case, mysteriously, it was decided that some kind of emergency must have been taking place.

The previous day, a police constable caught driving at a speed of 159mph, having hit 84mph in a 30mph zone, also benefited from the generosity of his law-enforcement colleagues. He admitted that he was driving at 3am, without authority, and was not involved in any kind of emergency. He was just practising for one, he said. Case dismissed.

A couple of days after that, yet another speeding cop had a stroke of luck: the black box which was apparently needed to confirm that he had indeed been driving at 90mph through a built-up area had gone missing. All charges dropped.

So it goes on. Suddenly those in the police force seem to lead something of a charmed life. Just as the weekend hippies of 40 years ago saw the police as pigs or plods, so the modern attitude has become alarmingly indulgent and rose-tinted, assuming that most officers of the law are sober, sensitive individuals imbued with a deep sense of civic pride.

It is surely not such a terrible slur to suggest that quite a lot of people join the police force because they like adventure, driving fast, kicking doors down, bossing people around, maybe even getting involved in a spot of violence now and then. Only a fool would assume that these people are always going to be model citizens. The balance in a free society between citizen and policeman is necessarily delicate but it has been skewed of late by a combination of circumstances. Our new fearfulness, whether it be of international terror or domestic yobbishness, has led to a dangerous assumption that, even if the lawmakers take to excessive snooping or breaking the law, then it is a small price for freedom and safety.

Meanwhile, approaching from the other direction, there is the lure of a culture which confuses fact and fiction and encourages the police to play the celebrity game, to be stars and heroes and sympathetic friends to families who are victims of crime.

Of course, some may be all those things, just as Operation Courting Couple could turn out to be a terrific success. But while, hand in hand at a village pub, police constables are watching our behaviour, we should, in a more general sense, be keeping an eye on theirs.

Terblacker@aol.com

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