What better way to spend an autumnal Sunday than attending the Walsall Police Open Day at Walsall Police Station on Green Lane. Come rain or shine, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
The fun starts today at 11-00am with the arrival of an RAF helicopter and goes on until 4-00pm. You can pat a police dog, look at some cars and guns and if you are lucky enough, hold a policeman`s truncheon. The cells will be open for inspection by those few remaining members of our rich, diverse community unfamiliar with the interior of a slammer.
An open day is, of course, an excellent idea and gives the community a greater awareness of the sometimes difficult work undertaken by the police. Anything that promotes trust and understanding between the police and the public has to be a very good thing. It seems a shame then, in this of all weeks, that trust and understanding has taken a retrograde step. This humble blog has consistently welcomed the engagement of social media in Walsall by individual police officers. It would be boring to go over old ground so let`s just say that plods on twitter give a human persona to the wailing sirens in the middle distance and the bugger in the helicopter waking the household at three in the morning. What was annoying before twitter is now reassurance because we are at last being told that some good guys are chasing after some bad guys.
The powerful elite that control us have always hated the internet. The thought that ordinary citizens should have access to information terrifies them and now as the technology advances almost daily, growing numbers of Joe Public are armed with cameras and connectivity. It is increasingly difficult to keep a lid on bad news or to enforce control by ignorance. The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.
Here in Walsall and in the wider West Midlands, we do very well for tweeting coppers of all ranks. From Assistant Chief Constables to PCSO`s, they are engaging with the public and giving us the benefit of their experience. Robert Peel`s principle of the police being fellow citizens in uniform holds true as the quality of social media engagement reflects the society that we all belong to. Some are mind bogglingly boring, some are bland, some are irritating, some are informative, some are funny and some are very, very important. Once the chaff of “to avoid burglary, lock your doors and windows” or “had a good meeting with the Neighbourhood Watch” have been cleared away along with tweets from senior officers telling us how wonderful everything is, there are bits of vital information that come fluttering through the ether.
“Road closure due to RTA. No casualties” or “Burst water main, diversion in operation” or “Rabid hippo on the loose – stay indoors” is real time information coming direct from the boots on the ground. One example of this is the recent fire at a much loved old building in Walsall town centre. Twitter broke the news with reports of a pall of smoke near the station and within minutes the rumours started to fly suggesting all manner of Armageddon scenarios. It took a plod with a camera and connectivity who was actually there doing his job to tell the world what was going on. Buried deep in a bunker in the northern wastes, the redoubtable Brownhills Bob was collating the incoming intelligence in his state of the art control room and passing the reality of the situation to a concerned public. An hour after we all knew that the BOAK building could not be saved, the official Walsall police twitter feed reported an “incident” in the town centre.
The same boots on the ground who dispelled the barking mad rumours surrounding the BOAK fire has continued to inform the public about issues of concern in this town we hold precious. Social media nerds in Walsall know who he is and so too, sadly, do his senior officers and have decided that this sort of public service has to stop. The day after the terrible events in Manchester, the boots on the ground reported a find of an old rifle and a dud grenade in Walsall. This is inherently of public interest and concern in a way that dubious statistics telling us that crime is at an all time low is not. Boots on the ground took to twitter to organise fellow officers from around the country to cover colleagues from Greater Manchester Police who might wish to attend the funerals of their fallen friends and comrades. This was a step too far for the top brass at Walsall Police. They placed him under investigation for a breach of police procedure and gave his name to the press.
In a very bad week for the police following the depth of corruption surrounding the Hillsborough disaster, one might think that senior officers would embrace the chance to restore public trust. The national grief being expressed for the two fallen officers in Manchester and the disgraceful behaviour of Andrew Mitchell in Downing Street might just make the public appreciate the role of the police in a more positive light. Sadly in Walsall, senior officers are determined to distance themselves from the people that they are paid to serve and protect.
A few years ago, the odious EDL decided to visit the Black Country and spread their ignorant hatred. The police officer in charge of the operation tweeted throughout the day and was able to dispel erroneous rumours and false reporting. His actions prevented a bit of a bundle from turning into major civil disorder. Next Saturday, the apes from the EDL descend upon Walsall. With the greatest respect to the officers who are to police the perfectly legal “static” demonstration, this humble social media nerd wishes that the senior officer from a few years ago and boots on the ground could be there to let us know exactly what is going on. It is our town after all.
So, later today, head on down to Walsall Police Station and enjoy the open day. Say hello to our new borough commander, Chief Superintendent David Sturman and all the other Superintendents who will tell you that everything is wonderful in Walsall.
It is great to know that, for at least one day a year, policing in Walsall is actually open.