Extracted from Perverting the Course of Justice, @InspGadgetBlogs on the number of cops patrolling your town, tonight:
THE first member of the public I dealt with on my return to work after a slice of annual leave was someone who wanted to complain about us.
We get a lot of complaints from disgruntled people who are annoyed with the service we have given them.
When I was a PC, it used to wind me up, hearing that my force was crap all the time. I’d think, No, we’re not… I go to fifteen calls a night and we do really well.
The trouble is that, as a PC, or even a Sergeant, your perspective is limited. You arrive at some drama, you sort out the callers’ troubles and depart, leaving happy customers behind you. What you don’t know is that there are another forty-five people on hold for half an hour, listening to Brahms or the Sugababes and fuming while they wait to speak to someone about their problem.
So – to an extent – I’ve come round to the complainers’ side.
I don’t think the police are all brilliant. We make mistakes, some cops are lazy, others cut corners. We’re human beings.
I also don’t think the public are all moaners, or criminals, or idiots – though I do think too many of them believe what they see on The Bill and Inspector Morse and CSI, where a crime happens, a big team works on nothing else, gets an arrest and the guy is banged up forever, all in forty minutes.
I have spoken to so many people who have said, ‘What’s happening with my case?’
‘What’s your name please, sir?’
‘John Smith. I was robbed. That bloody Jones, again.’
‘Just hold the line would you sir? I’m just going to go and have a look at my cases.’
‘Have a look at your cases? What do you mean?’
‘Well, I’ve got a dozen others ongoing.’
‘A dozen? I thought you were investigating my robbery.’
Why are they so surprised? Where do they get the idea that we sit and do one thing at a time? But if the response we provide is sometimes rubbish, and some of these complaints are quite justified, they’re often aimed at the wrong people.
The bobby who didn’t catch your burglar is run absolutely ragged and doing his level best; the fact that his best isn’t good enough is down to the ACPO ranks and Home Office types who have strewn his path with obstacles.
I don’t even think that everything the Government or the pen-pushers does is bad, mind you; I just think that they are economical with the truth. The people who make the decisions and sign the cheques won’t come clean and admit that, as things are, there are limits to what we can do.
I can only imagine that the reason they don’t do this is because they fear that the public response would be to demand a refocusing of the police away from their beloved targets and initiatives and diversity projects and back to catching criminals. So they fiddle the figures and say everyone else is lying.
Anyway, my post-leave complainant.
The man’s name was Jessop, and he was angry because the night before it had taken us four hours to get round to a criminal damage at his house.
‘It’s just not good enough,’ he said, literally banging the desk. ‘The youths were probably still nearby when I rang. By the time your lads got to the house they’d long gone. What the hell am I paying my taxes for? What the hell am I paying your wages for?’
This one always irritates cops, not least we pay tax, too, whereas a lot of the people who say it to us don’t, being (unlike Mr Jessop) heroin-addicted, layabout burglars.
‘I’m sorry you feel you’ve had a bad service,’ I said. ‘Now, do you want to have a real conversation about it or do you just want to shout at me? You choose.’
He harrumphed for a moment, and then said, ‘Go on.’
‘I’ll have to look into the specifics of the case,’ I said. ‘But I can tell you now that your call was put on a list of other calls and, not being a life-or-death sort of thing, would be dealt with as soon as we had officers available. That might have been within 15 minutes, it might have been within 15 hours.’
‘Well, that’s ridiculous,’ he said.
‘Do you have any idea how many police there are in the country?’ I said.
‘The total police strength is about 140,000,’ I said [this was written some years ago!]. ‘How many of those do you think will be available at any time to come out to you if you call us?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘If you take out annual leave and rest days, appearances in court, courses, illness, injury, traffic officers, CID, domestic violence and all the other squads, maternity leave, people off with stress, custody officers, front desk, Neighbourhood Teams, licensing officers, armed officers, schools liaison, community liaison, diplomatic protection, PSD, British Transport Police, all the office-bounds and senior ranks, and then you remember that we operate a shift system so we can work around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s actually not all that many people. No more than a few thousand. Covering a population of over 50 million in a fairly large geographical area.’
He nodded. ‘OK, I understand that not all 140,000 of you are available.’
‘Locally, across this whole division, it’s a dozen or so. And did you know that as soon as one of those dozen officers arrests someone, that is them off the street for a minimum of four hours, doing all the paperwork and so on?’
‘Really. Now, any idea how many calls we get every day?’
He shook his head.
‘This force takes 3,000,’ I said. ‘All it takes is one big fight, or a nasty accident, or just two or three separate arrests, and everything else has to go on hold.’
‘I suppose I hadn’t thought all that through,’ he said.
‘I always look at it this way,’ I said. ‘If you break your arm and it’s a Saturday evening, and I take you to casualty, you’re going to have to wait three or four hours to get it seen to. It’s the same with us, except that we have to come to you. Imagine if casualty had to come to you, too. Now how long do you think you’d have to wait? And there are more people on duty at casualty and in the hospital generally on a Saturday night than there are of us.’
He sighed – just a normal, frustrated customer of the police service who was thoroughly fed up with life.
‘It just seems like I pay my tax and I get nothing for it,’ he said.
‘You say that,’ I said, ‘but do you know how much of your council tax actually goes to fund your local plod?’
‘The average household in Ruralshire pays £1.79 a week to the policing budget,’ I said.
I reached down into a drawer and pulled out a leaflet on which there was a pie chart showing how the cash is divvied up. ‘That tiny little yellow sliver there is the police.’
I reached back into the drawer, and picked out a couple of ballpoint pens, a little plastic helicopter toy someone had left in there and a ruler and a rubber in a set from the Post Office, and pushed them across the table.
‘That is what your £1.79 can buy you, instead of policing, which covers everything from major international terrorist actions, right down to vandalism, serious road accidents, all the custody business, buying our cars and uniforms, training, the whole lot. We spent more than that in petrol just coming out to your criminal damage – eventually.’
He stood there, looking at the plastic helicopter.
I said, ‘What I am not saying, Mr Jessop, is that I am happy about this. I really am not. I am really, really unhappy about it, and I am sincerely sorry that we didn’t get to you while these idiots were there. Me and my officers love nothing more than arresting people like that. It’s why we joined the job. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other demands on our time.
‘You might think some of those demands are silly, but that’s not for me to say. I hope you at least understand now why things happened the way they did.’
‘Thanks Inspector,’ he said. ‘Thanks for your time. I’m not happy, either, but at least I’ve got it off my chest and learned a few things I didn’t know.’
We shook hands, and he left the police station.
Nothing that I told him was top secret or controversial or even hard to discover for oneself but, as I say, no-one at the top seems to explain stuff like this to people.
Taking the time to point out how powerless and annoyed we are about it too can only help.