The picture above is a symbol of British policing (friendly, benevolent), but in principle I'd suggest that it also represents any police force anywhere in the world - in an ideal world. No, I don't mean that everyone wants Brits patrolling their streets; I'm instead suggesting that just as the picture above is a comforting one to most law-abiding U.K citizens, law abiding citizens everywhere would hope to be served by an honest, independent, public spirited, hard working and, above all, trusted police force. It is certainly what I hope for in a police service, and the perceived lack of such is a very definite factor in my intention never to visit certain countries which I would otherwise relish exploring (Mexico, Russia, India, Colombia...). That doesn't mean that my perceptions about other countries are necessarily accurate, but it does hopefully indicate that the rule of law is one of my primary values. I don't want to be in a place where the law does not adequately protect me. I think many people would probably agree with that idea.
Knowing what I know from intense and extensive personal experience from the inside, the British police are exactly that kind of body. My experience of other police forces in other countries has strengthened my opinion about the British 'Bobby' - and that's the group about which I know the most. So let's get down to brass tacks.
The police aren't perfect - anywhere. It's impossible for them to be, simply because there is no such thing. A perfect police force is a totally subjective thing, and therefore non-existent in any meaningful sense, despite the efforts and protestations of interest groups and self-serving media organizations. Without wishing to sound too obvious, the police force is, like any other organization, a collection of individuals, and as such, prone - in fact destined - to have members which fail to live up to the customer's (the law abiding public's) ideals. There will ALWAYS be officers who are corrupt, dishonest or simply inadequate. It's simply inevitable.
I worked with examples of dishonest and inadequate coppers - in fact several examples of each. None of the people I worked with who fell into either category lasted for very long, although sadly, long enough to do some harm. What I can say with absolute certainty is that such people were a tiny minority, and were regarded within the job with disdain and in some cases, contempt. Such people were usually ostracized and dishonesty was reported upon immediately. Dishonest and corrupt officers were simply not tolerated, although I must assume that we did not become aware of every incident that such people were involved with.
This was, please note, an era within which complaining about a police officer was almost a hobby among the criminals, and a time when complaints were investigated with enthusiasm, contrary to public belief. I was personally investigated on at least a dozen occasions (probably more, but the memory fades), and to some uninformed people (although few lay persons consider themselves anything less than experts on the police, it seems) that may seem to indicate that I was probably a corrupt or dishonest or at least otherwise badly behaved officer. I wasn't - I was never, ever dishonest in any way, and was never, for the record, subject of a complaint that questioned my honesty.
A colleague of mine was once accused of theft. The accusation stated that because a watch had gone missing from the house of a person who had died, the officer who had dealt with the sudden death (investigated the circumstances, informed the relatives, assisted at the identification of the body and secured the scene) had obviously stolen it. The accusation was duly investigated: the officer (who until then had an unblemished record) was suspended and the matter dragged on for many months before a relative of the dead man came forward to explain that he was in possession of the watch and had been since before his uncle's death.
I was once accused of using confidential information and unlawfully disseminating it to my family who then used it to the detriment of my parents' neighbour. I had not done so, and the information that my elderly father had, in a heated discussion with his abusive neighbour (who was, by the way, a drug dealer turned informer) pointed out to the alleged 'victim', was reported in their local newspaper only two days earlier! Nevertheless, I was investigated, and my access to sensitive but operationally vital information was closely monitored for two years, despite the complaint being utter bullshit, based on inaccurate assumptions and demonstrably untrue allegations. For two years I didn't know if I was going to lose my job and be prosecuted for something I had not done.
On another occasion, having been one of three officers first on the scene of a murder, I was the subject of a complaint simply because the accused - who had to our surprise been found 'not guilty' in court - had retrospectively decided to complain about every officer involved in the enquiry. That complaint lasted eighteen months before being resolved.
In each of these examples, the public could be forgiven (if I was in a very forgiving mood) for reading the sensational press reporting of such matters, and conclude that in each case there was no smoke without fire, and in my case (and it's fair to say that my career was fairly typical for a street officer), since there had been a series of complaints, I was clearly a corrupt or otherwise very bad man. The truth is; I wasn't, and I'm not. I don't need to lie; you don't know who I am, and I have nothing to gain from being untruthful to you - my point is that public perception about the police is based on a lack of information, a lack of perspective, a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy and a fundamental failure to understand what happens in the world where the police and the criminals meet one another. For example, despite what criminals themselves, the wonderful world of show business and the cynical, attention-seeking media may tell you (usually because it's exciting, intriguing and sexy), I can swear to you on anything that's dear to me, that I never, EVER arrested anyone whom I thought was innocent of the offence they were accused of - and neither, to my knowledge, did any of my colleagues. To do so would have been contrary to our principles of justice and fairness, frankly foolish in the extreme, and a complete waste of everybody's time - not to mention, of course, a career-killer.
On one infamous occasion which no doubt raised some eyebrows, five officers including myself were proactively investigated by our internal discipline team after the local magistrates decided that all of us, including the civilian victim and two other public witnesses, were simply lying about an assault in the street wherein the offender, in the course of a rather frenzied attack, bit somebody. Five of us were involved because he had violently resisted arrest. It was a relatively simple 'slam dunk' of a case that we had been surprised to hear was being contested, and ultimately were stunned about (almost as much as his own lawyer) when the magistrates stated simply that they did not believe any of the witnesses and acquitted the suspect. We were all investigated simply because he was found not guilty. In the eyes of the public we were probably considered to be corrupt officers who had concocted the whole story. Everyone ignored the victim.
Where am I going with this first installment about policing perfectly? It's simple but it's also blunt; If you're not a police officer, if you have never walked in the shoes of the men and women who do that job, be careful about leaping to conclusions based upon press reports, gossip, or in fact anything short of the result of a trial. I was accused of a great many things in my service, and had I continued to finish thirty years I have no doubt whatsoever that i would have been accused of a great many more. It was, and remains, a sad fact of life that people in difficult situations lash out (physically or otherwise) against the nearest or the easiest target, and very often that person is wearing a police uniform. The police officer comes across more conflict, confrontation and danger than just about any other official in public life, and bears the brunt of the public's resentment and frustration.
People frequently and blatantly lied about me. I wasn't allowed - by reason of personal and professional ethics, morals or duty - to lie about them, and I had to accept the fact that people did, and would continue to tell lies about me, and - worst of all - that there was a reasonable chance that someone would believe those lies, with potentially catastrophic results. I would estimate that 99% of my colleagues had the same kinds of experiences as I. Attack (or offence, if you prefer) is a well - used method of defence, after all - what better way to muddy the waters than make spurious, misleading and downright untruthful accusations against the person who is trying to bring you before the court? The blunt truth is that the overwhelming majority of complaints against the police are malicious and untrue, a very sad fact that tends to obscure the true stories behind the justified complaints that are also out there.
Before you look at your local police officer in the light of a reporter's story about his or her colleague, be very sure of your evidence, just as the police themselves must be. Be very sure that you can be certain about the truth, that you are not simply morally convicting somebody you don't know, based upon what you have only heard third hand about somebody who wears the same uniform, somewhere. Be very sure of yourself before you paint all of the police with the same colour, before you decide upon no real evidence that people always tell the truth about the police, that every piece of cell phone video is presented in context (more of which in the next post on this topic) or accurately depicts the situation. Be very sure that you understand about the real world before you make your snap decision about the people who uphold the law that keeps you safe as you go about your business. If you lined up 1000 police officers, my bet is that 999 of them would be as honest, trustworthy and deserving of your respect as you would wish. Focus on the one exception if you wish, but you'd be a fool to do so.
This is where I'm going; this is where I AM, and this is where I shall remain. I've been there, the subject of multiple malicious complaints, only because I did my job and the people I caught didn't like that I'd done my job - no other reason. Please, at least, try to understand. Some people are indeed arseholes, but the overwhelming odds are that the arsehole in the room isn't the police officer.