In my 30 years as a police officer I collected a few complaints, very few in fact. Some might argue that if you don't book or arrest anyone you'll never get a complaint - well that's probably true to a point, but then again every station has its `most complained about officer` who in my day was usually the one with the most arrests for obstructing/assaulting police. Whatever the arguments, there was always one's sergeant and inspector to ensure that all gladiators faced the games of the day or night well presented and with a cheerful chant of "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant".
The one complaint I always remember this time of year resulted from me covering that vital part of the service that has been progressively handed over to non-police employees, the place where impressions are formed and reputations won and lost, usually within minutes of each other. Of course I'm talking about the front office in the police station, the public counter, the centre of advice, the fountain of all knowledge and the epicentre of cheery smiles and jolly banter. These days I think there is an award for anyone who finds such a place - and two awards if it happens to be open, but whoever performs such a role has my utmost respect.
I was covering the desk for a mere 5 minutes while the regular guy went into the crime property office to recover something to be returned to a rightful owner. This procedure was often accompanied by the comment, "I've almost forgotten what it looks like" from the poor victim, whose chattels had been gathering the, by now, thick dust of the snail's-paced criminal justice process. A ruddy faced man marched through what was, at the time, our brand new police station's glass double front door into the spacious atrium designed by the same architect that got the County contract for any new doctors surgeries, infants schools and courthouses. Apparently these other establishments' glass double-fronted doors lasted quite a bit longer than ours did. The previous police station's big wooden door had survived since 1840.
Mr. `ruddyface` wanted service and he wanted it now. I was in the process of taking details of someone's driving documents when the man decided that his case was more important and started to muscle in and interrupt me and told me that if I prioritised their respective cases it would be obvious that he should be dealt with immediately. I asked if he was reporting a crime in progress, someone bleeding or choking or any sort of life-threatening incident. He wasn't. He had suffered a burglary whilst he had been away for a few days but in his mind this took priority over some bloke who had been booked for a traffic offence. I told him another five minutes or so wouldn't make a difference and to wait his turn. He stood and fumed, theatrically.
I had made an error. It was under five minutes before he had my undivided attention. I took the report of his `burglary` which turned out to be the theft of garden tools from his garden shed (left unlocked). Nevertheless, these thieving bastards needed to be caught and punished, preferably by flogging or perhaps a day padlocked in the town stocks and then pelted with rotten apples. When I said it was unlikely that I could accede to his request to dispatch a detective and forensics expert immediately, he really flew off into a purple faced rant. I completed his report, told him an officer would be allocated the job and would be in touch in due course. As it was the day before Christmas Eve I said that although the station would be on `minimum cover` over the holiday, he might be contacted within a few days, although I would have circulated details of the stolen property within the hour. He told me he was a television executive and was too busy over Christmas and anyway he would be in Barbados for two weeks and not to contact him until January 6th. And I thought it was urgent?
Actually, `minimum cover` was a bit of a joke, as it still is today. In reality, this meant that over a 24 hour period covered by three shifts, instead of having four officers per shift covering 120 square miles of a small country town and numerous villages and hamlets, there would only be two per shift. `Minimum cover` was relative and whoever it was that set this imaginary number over Christmas had clearly never worked at Christmas themself, with its good will to all, punchy drunks, the heartbreaking domestic violence incidents and sudden death calls. I wished Mr telly exec` a `Happy Christmas` as he left the station. He thought I was being sarcastic and later that day made a formal complaint against me. My chief inspector dealt with it `informally` (before `informal resolution` to complaints was actually invented and made part of the process) and when we spoke in his office the next day, Christmas Eve, just before we both booked off duty, he gave me `advice` a handshake, a glass of scotch and wished me a Happy Christmas. (I think he was being sarcastic though).
On my first Christmas Eve as a sergeant, me and my five officers dealt with ten or fifteen 999 emergency calls, and other calls in between, in the forty five minutes leading up to midnight, finishing off by bouncing fighting drunks from the town centre church at midnight mass. By 0100 I was down to three officers for the rest of the night shift. A domestic `seige` followed a brief respite, where a drunken husband had seriously assaulted his wife and then barricaded himself into his garage with his `rifle` and the family dog as hostage. We resolved this as he poked what we identified as an air rifle out of the door far enough for my trusty local beat officer to break his wrist with a short sharp blow from his lignum vitae truncheon. Job done. The man complained later about the use of excessive force, but at least it wasn't me who delivered the blow. Had it become protracted I would probably have had to respond in my other role as duty team sergeant on the force tactical fireams unit, with greater force options at my disposal. I was lucky. So was he.
Over the last few days I have read such sorry tales of woe over this `plebgate` debacle and what has been variously described as the total breakdown of trust between the police and our (Conservative) Government. It has left me sick at heart for the job I did for half my life. I cannot recall such systematic bitching and crafted tactical press `briefings` and `between the lines` innuendo's of such finely tuned quality before. I hope my modern day counterparts can rise above it, just as we did in the 70's, 80`s and 90`s, but it is bad and this country can do without this shit. And if someone has `stitched up` the former Government Chief Whip, then they shouldn't have. If the course of justice has been perverted, the guilty (all of them) should face justice.
My sister even telephoned me very late at night (I was actually in bed) earlier this week to ask me if I knew it was all being debated `right now` on "Newsnight". Now, there's a dichotomy!