Thursday, 17 September 2009

"Behave yourself or that policeman will come and take you away"

As I may have mentioned (once or twice yawn, zzzzzz) I was a village Bobby for 3 years during my 30 year career and, as a result, lived in the "Police House" within the main village of my 75 square mile rural beat area.
I used to socialise in the area which included having a drink in the local pubs, my daughter went to local play and pre-schoolgroups but, unlike my towny police colleagues, I was generally regarded by my locals as their personal policeman. I got to know all the various strands of the community from the great and good (some of these were only great in their own minds, foolishly believing that being members of the local hunt gave them the ability to command respect, ha) to the likely lads, the ever-so-slightly deranged and the downright villainous. I had great discretion as to how I dealt with them, as each demanded different tactics, albeit that we were all subject to exactly the same law, including me, which is why my empty glass was always the first on the bar and I was out the pub door when time was called. If the locals occasionally stayed behind for `afters` I wasn't bothered unless there was a complaint, but at least I wasn't part of the problem and could look them in the face if I had to lay down the law.
I always gave my locals the respect that they deserved, although this was sometimes at odds with what they believed they were entitled to, but I always tried my best to be fair - and if they didn't like it they could always complain to my chief inspector, but no one ever did. If I had a warrant to arrest one of them and it was "backed for bail" I would always allow them the dignity of meeting me at the police station at a mutually agreed time (within reason) to minimise inconvenience to both of us and to save them the embarrassment of being carted off in a van in front of their neighbours. These "arrests by appointment" took no more than 20 minutes between arrest and release on bail and I used them as both a subtle way of me imposing my authority and of showing my reasonable nature to them.If they broke their part of the bargain, I'd be there for them with a van, at a time of my choosing (but rarely convenient to them).
My solution to kids anti-social behaviour, once a friendly word was ignored, was one of pure harassment. With a cheery smile I would make their lives unpleasant. Two on a bike? bike with no lights? Riding on the pavement? Using obscene language? Anything I could find. Into my notebook would go their names and round to their houses I would go. If I got any grief from the parents then they too, in due course, would cop shit from me and always directly proportionate to their lack of co-operation. Vehicle checks revealing infringements would be dealt with according to Hogday's law, which resembled the criminal law but with my applied discretion which, if they cottoned onto it, would result in the desired status quo or `Pax Hogday`. If they didn't cotton on I would make myself a total pain in their arses too, but always politely. Thankfully, I was not in an urban area and these local arses were not large in number. I could quickly show my generous side whenever I had the opportunity and never had any serious trouble in the way I did my job. I returned to the local pub for the first time in 20 years, just before I retired. I was warmly welcomed by several people, only one of whom I remembered, but who took great delight in telling those at the bar about how I used to chase their arses all over the place. I tried to buy them a drink but they were definitely `in the chair` and I didn't put my hand in my pocket. I was touched.
But Country Beat bobbies were phased out. Prosecutions for `minor` offences were engineered out of the system by various means, including the introduction of the CPS and their prosecutions policies and `seriousness cut off points`. Policing `targets` for police forces were set by faceless mandarins at the Home Office and met by obedient chief constables and police authorities. Discretion was phased out. ASBO's were introduced in the place of the former `subtle social controls` that I was brought up on. Oh yes, I've just remembered where this little ramble was supposed to be going. One of my locals was a hard up but hard working single Mum with a son who had, to use the modernism, "learning difficulties". The local yobs used to make fun of the lad and his mannerisms in the way that kids sometimes do. If I was chatting to them on the village green and any unpleasentness started I would speak my piece and try to impose a little of my own value system on them. In the bigger picture one could argue that this was none of my business, as such things are the responsibility of parents, but I made the point that if they spoke in an aggressive, derogatory tone in my presence I would draw a very clear line in the sand as to where I stood, tell them why and try to impose a little social responsibility upon them. They threw eggs at him and his front door once and I was all over them like a rash for weeks for what, in isolation, would appear to be a minor matter unworthy of police attention. Which is why this story made me feel desperately sad.


dickiebo said...

Perhaps we've outlived our times!

Hogday said...

Dickiebo: Most def! Lucky to be alive.

Blue Eyes said...

Yeah, you and your out of date ideas about community policing! What do you know?!

It's amazing to think that what is now considered "impossible" was, not *that* long ago, the usual way of doing things.

Anonymous said...

A dying breed of dinosaurs..... The new hair gel police just don't get what it is to be a copper anymore.

powdergirl said...

That is heartbreaking. Makes me glad to live in a small town. We have, it seems to me, a fairly large number of POs for our population and you see the same officers around a lot. I think they must rotate between here and the little city, not sure, but the faces are mostly familiar.
I really don't have any dealings with them, but I'm pretty sure that just being in the same place for a long time makes them better at determining which complaints are real and when someone is over-reacting.
I don't know how much discretion they're given, but I think the fact that they're familiar with the people they do deal with makes them very effective in the job. I'd be willing to bet that this sort of tragedy would have a real hard time unfolding itself here.

Man, suicide by fire...that poor woman.

LL said...

As a police officer (now retired) myself, I certainly feel what you're saying.

I lived in England and in Scotland thirty years ago and from my experience the bobbys were respected and very much appreciated. Then again I was an ex-pat and perhaps my view was skewed by personal bias toward appreciating what the polcie did and what they stood for.

powdergirl said...

I'm a fan of police, but I've got to tell you, I've seen the hair gel, on spiked and blond-tipped hair too, seems to go along with a lot of posing and flexing.

I hate read a book by its cover, but, ew, that 'look' really doesn't inspire confidence..

Hogday said...

Blue: Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

CPD: Welcome back chum! Do the hair gel police eat quiche?

LL: Thanks for the visit. The old place just isn't the same anymore and I've tried really hard to stay with it ;)

PG: I think your guys have more discretion available to them than our police now have, if reading PC Copperfield's Canadian exploits are anything to go by. Your last line about the suicide by fire is precisely what prompted me to tap away at the old keyboard this afternoon. That is disturbed despair to the power of ten.
Ps; I'm more of an `American Crew forming cream`, myself. Never needed it in my day as we were all required to wear our hats ;)

Anonymous said...

Hello HogDay. An interesting article you wrote here... and the news article is just an appalling, sad story.
In the early 90s I lived in a Northants village, facing the green. I had dreadful trouble with youths, 17-20, old enough to drive, hanging around and getting up to all sorts of ASBO type stuff. I confronted them and it was the worst thing I ever did given the onslaught I put up with after that. The local police couldn't do much about things and I understood their position, but it was relentless. One day, a WPC hinted that if I visited a certain village I would find their cars and I would then know where they lived. I visited and I found three of them one by one. To this day, I still take pride in what I did that day. One got a punch in the face and boot in the bollocks before I moved on. Another was washing his car on the driveway and legged it when he saw me. The other, as soon as he saw me upon opening the door called for his Dad who declined the fight I offered him and did nothing while I let the air out of all his car tyres. What the hell I was thinking when I did that I dont know, but I know I wanted a fight after months of abuse. That youth's Dad wouldnt have known why I was so mad and certainly wasn't prepared for my onslaught. I went home shaking and I expected a visit from the police but it never came. The gang of youths never came back either. The majority of my neighbours around the village green were just as tired of their behaviour but couldnt do what I did because they were at least twice my age. They were cocky youths who thought they were invincible because they were anonymous and all together. But when they know you can find them, and also alone, they change their tune. Sadly, of the three youths I found, they all lived in much bigger and nicer houses than I did. They were hardly deprived.
When I think back, that was a clever WPC. She knew what she was doing when she talked to me and I probably solved a problem for her too. In my eyes, she was good copper whose hands were tied.

I'm rambling, I know! My point is that sadly, the victim in the story you refer to did not have neighbours who could have stepped in. I am not condoning my behaviour at the time but who knows? If someone had fought fire with fire, she and her daughter could still be alive today. When you live in a village community, everyone should be part of the community and step in when required without expecting the police to do it all for them. You dont have to take the law into your own hands - you can be creative.

But do you think the Leicestershire police are at fault for not taking care of this? I lament the fact that there are not enough or NO village police officers anymore, but given the current thinking in the UK these days I cannot help but think the Chief Constable was right. After all, if these youths did get arrested the CPS would throw it out or if it made it to court the penalty, if any, would do nothing more than build the youths street cred with each other and make them even more cocky? Although the coroner was right in everything she said, I think she was niave to think the system was not as broken as it is and niave to think the police have powers of discretion that they simply do not have any more. She must live in a posh area. ;)

I have to say, Hogday, you sound like you were a great copper. If you had policed the village I lived in the way you just described, the locals would have named a day after you and sacrificed lambs in your honour!

Sorry for the long winded post - you pressed one of my buttons!

Hogday said...

Dave: Great response, no apology required. There was no such thing as CPS when I was in that rural beat (incidentally, I lived in a village just outside Northampton in the 60's). The police had their own prosecutions department and, at magistrates court level, we did our own prosecuting, even in the Met. I never had a solicitor representing my prosecutions in court until I transferred to a county force and even then I felt I could have done as good a job. That said, our police solicitors were in our staions and were approachable for advice and would also come to us and suggest a tweak here or extra statement there. When the CPS appeared, I'm afraid thats when `the tits started to point upwards`.

My locals were brill. I had a pub full of trouble one night - strangers to the area. I turned up alone (normal, as police backup was always 20+ minutes away) and managed to eject them all. I thought I'd done really well until I turned round and saw half the pub stood in a semicircle behind me as I showed them the door! No police backup required that night. Final point - I felt it was MY job to be the village vigilante but what you said here was so true and fundamental to being effective:
"They were cocky youths who thought they were invincible because they were anonymous and all together. But when they know you can find them, and also alone, they change their tune".

The only difference was that it was me, the plod, who went and found them and made them wish I'd just let their tyres down. I felt it was my job to harass pains in the arse and made it my business to do just that. I'd like to think that most current day cops would relish the thought of doing that....if only they felt they could do so with the backing of the court, the public and their own management.