If television police dramas are to be believed, a radio call saying “officer down” results in the massed ranks of the constabulary`s finest rushing to respond to their stricken comrade. The reality, of course, is very different.
Given the substantial reduction of front-line, warranted officers and the accelerated privatisation of the police force, the rozzer in difficulties might have to wait for a bit, possibly 24 hours if we can believe anything the Home Secretary invents. If only she was called April rather than Theresa. What hope then, when the airwaves crackle with the message “member of the public down”? The answer is…very little hope at all.
Here in peaceful, crime-free Walsall, consider the fate of one local man undertaking the daily commute to and from the leafy paradise that is forever Aldridge to a distant southern suburb known as Birmingham. On his way home, he is creamed by a car and left with horrific and life-changing injuries. On a main route, at a main junction and at rush hour, West Midlands Police did not bother to attend. You can read what happened here.
Astonishingly, rather than the usual wrong place wrong time scenario to explain away incidents the police cannot be bothered to investigate, it seems that the victim was the cause of the RTA. He was at fault because he was riding a bicycle on the Queen`s Highway.
The great strength of the British police service is that men and women who serve it remain ordinary citizens subject to the same legislation and statutes that govern all of us. Without going over old ground, it is fair to say that the relationship between the police and the public in Britain is unique and really rather special. All of that, though, is obviously changing.
It is commendable that WM Police continue to engage with social media and we should remain grateful to police dogs, helicopters, Chief and Assistant Chief Constables as well as front-line bobbies on the beat who use twitter to remind us to avoid burglary by locking our doors and windows, to inhale and exhale to ward off unconsciousness and to emphasise the wonderful service they provide in fighting crime. No mention of avoiding response, ignoring potentially dangerous incidents or of the still ingrained incompetence and disturbing prejudice of a minority of active, serving officers.
It is, of course, easy to dismiss the shocking treatment of a single downed cyclists as a one off, wrong place wrong time, slipped through the safety net aberration that will never be repeated. But other evidence, all be it, apocryphal, is beginning to emerge that suggests that there are serious problems with the police service.
A couple of months ago, a neighbour came to ask for some advice. Walking home one Sunday evening, her teenage son had been approached by a middle aged man who produce a long bladed knife. There was no actual threat of violence but the older man was described as exhibiting slightly odd behaviour and was known as a local “character” who suffered from drink, drug and mental health problems. As the encounter took place next to a children`s playground, the concerned mother rang the newly introduce 101 police number for non emergency incidents.
The call was not answered and eventually cut out. She tried again and then again and after about 30 minutes managed to speak to somebody. She gave details of the incident, including the time, the exact location, a description and even a possible name and address of the man with the knife. At the end of this, the voice said: “Hang on, I`ll put you through to Walsall Police”.
After a long time on hold, she spoke to Walsall Police and told the tale again. A voice said: “Hang on, I`ll put you through to someone”. After another long time on hold, she told the tale for a third time. Another voice said: “Why have you come through to us? We are CID, we investigate scenes of crime. I`ll get someone to call you back”. The call was returned about 90 minutes later and she reported the incident again. She was disappointed with the outcome. It seemed that there were no officers available to respond but that the incident would be logged and someone would “get back to her”. They never did. It would seem that her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time and as he was a teenager, he was probably wearing a hoodie. He was actually returning from church.
More recently, nipping out to the local shop for some milk and a newspaper, an encounter with another friend and neighbour gave further cause for concern. He had obviously been in the wars and when asked about his black eye, cuts and abrasions, he merely shrugged. Outside the shop, in glorious spring morning sunshine, his story was slowly teased out.
There had been some commotion in his street during the previous night with parked cars being damaged by some bad people. Woken in the wee small hours and fearing for the safety of his car, he ventured out and, in the dark, stumbled into a uniformed police officer. The encounter led to his injuries and what a certain, senior local tweeting copper might describe as a “pavement rash”, a condition unusually common in certain types of suspect. The suggestion that he was the victim of assault was met with a resigned shrug from the respected, long standing good neighbour. “After 40 years,” he said, “you get used to it. There`s no point in fighting back and making a fuss makes it worse”. In attempting to protect his property, he was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time. More seriously, he was in possession of the wrong ethnicity.
Before the boys in blue howl libel and defamation and demand details to launch yet another wide-ranging internal inquiry, it is worth pointing out that the people involved in these incidents do not wish to pursue complaints. One because they have no confidence that anything will change and the other because they believe that any challenge will result in unwanted and unjustified intimidation and harassment. The good work being done by the police is being undermined by an erosion of trust and no amount of cute police dogs and tweets about doughnuts is going to change that. The Met do not have a monopoly on corruption, incompetence and institutional racism.
Our stricken cyclist, as he battles through the painful journey to what we hope will be recovery, did make a fuss and got precisely nowhere. The admirable Brownhills Bob came riding tall in the saddle to give his take on this shameful episode.
When the good guys start complaining, the constabulary have more to worry about than cuts, elected commissioners and where the next chocolate bar is coming from. Evening all.