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Coppers. Friends or foes?

In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer gets stuck right into police forces, and especially the constabulary of Kent, for various offences against liberty and common sense. It is a rather populist article, designed to stir the pot, but I think it is a pot worth stirring. I myself on the other end of the world share his disdain for my local police force, which I regard as nothing more or less then the armed enforcers of the Treasury Department.

I certainly have reservations about their ethics, methods, and purpose, and I suspect much worse of them. Given that the head of Australian Federal Police is trying to push for a media blackout of its anti-terrorist activities, a power that could easily be abused, I think I have good reasons to fear the worst from the boys in blue.

How did it come to this? My own guess is that police forces are just reflecting the nature of the governments that supposedly control them. Monkey see, monkey do.

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17 comments to Coppers. Friends or foes?

  • I have mixed feelings about them. If I call them out for some reason then I am a customer and they are friendly if not necessarily very helpful. If they stop me in the street or while driving they are strangers interfering in my business with threats of violence. How did it come to this? Un-just laws and the abandoning of Peelian principles mean more of the latter.

    On the other hand, I was recently caught breaking some part of the highway code that would mean the *law* would have me convicted of dangerous driving. The copper let me off. If she let me off because what I did posed no danger, then she was preventing the enforcement of an un-just law. If she let me off because I was polite to her, then she was a thug dispensing arbitrary punishment who I managed to appease.

    So it depends on the individual copper and the circumstances. But on the whole they’re foes because they have the power to make individuals’ lives a misery.

  • Ian B

    Given that the head of Australian Federal Police is trying to push for a media blackout of its anti-terrorist activities, a power that could easily be abused, I think I have good reasons to fear the worst from the boys in blue.

    How did it come to this? My own guess is that police forces are just reflecting the nature of the governments that supposedly control them. Monkey see, monkey do.

    All actors in a society work tirelessly to promote their own power, status, wealth and so on. They’re acting this way because they can. If toothbrush salesmen were some vital part of the economy, you’d suffer the tyranny of toothbrush salesmen. That’s what statism always becomes, a bloody battle, red in tooth and claw, between mobs seeking power, status and wealth.

  • Andy

    I don’t mean to excuse them, but the occasional power tripping cop isn’t the main problem.

    It’s the one’s ‘just doing their jobs’ & ‘enforcing the law’ (as opposed to keeping the peace)

    The fact that their jobs have turned into such a god-awful mess can’t really be blamed on the police. (though of course staying in those jobs can, but that just makes them human)

    No. This mess is the fault of the wider population, likely included many of the stirred-up commenters to that telegraph article.

    That said, I’m a firm believer that corruption (if not legal, then moral) rises through the ranks, as evidenced by the lobbying in support of the Drug War by Chiefs of Police associations in America.

  • Anonymous Coward

    If she let me off because I was polite to her, then she was a thug dispensing arbitrary punishment who I managed to appease.

    A cop I sorta-know once told me about how he stopped some woman for a traffic offense, didn’t like her attitude, and went back to his car and spent half an hour making personal phone calls before issuing the ticket. Of course, I’m sure he didn’t tell her what he was doing.

    And if you’re a lawyer, don’t ever tell that to the cop who pulls who over.

  • Andy

    Oh, and to actually answer your question, neither, it depends on the cop.

  • Brad

    I am glad that I’m not the only one. As a fine upstanding (most of the time) white collar sort one would think I would be an admirer of our boys in blue. But I just can’t muster it up. Sure, in some circumstances they put their lives on the line against the violent anti-socials, but that’s why we allocate funds toward it and they were hired. But it seems that the vast majority of their time now is spent nailing people for going a few miles over the speed limit (at least in areas where it makes little difference like a highway). The few dealings I’ve had with them they have been mostly rude.

    Also, I see an alarming erosion in quality of those going into the profession. It used to be a good blue collar profession. Now everyone either wants to be CEO of Pepsi or not work a lick at all. No one wants to do these jobs, and so the people who do are of deteriorating quality. It seems to be getting closer to the old west when men vacillated back and forth between being on one side and then the other.

    I still can visualize a snippet of video from my local news (Milwaukee, WI) a year or so ago when an off duty officer beat and kicked a female bartender for not serving him even though he was clearly sloppy drunk already. Then there was the Frank Jude beating a few years back, and of course the Jeffrey Dahmer Affair (one of the officers who returned a 14 year old by with a hole drilled in his head for death and consumption is now the head of the policemen’s Union). And then just a few months ago in northern Wisconsin a young officer (off duty) storms a pizza party to kill his ex-girlfriend and company.

    These may be isolated incidences within all the manhours of good service performed by our officers, but it seems that as our Government passes more and more crazy laws and regulations, they need inmates to run the asylum. No sane person would want to be a part of enforcing what our States have become. It seems to be much less about those who want to protect society from harm than it is about those who like to push people around. The more our Governments are populated with such folk, it is logical to assume those who populate the lowest levels of enforcement would be chosen as being likeminded.

  • Resident Alien

    Ideally, a citizen who sees a person being chased by the police would feel that he is on the same side as the police and would seek to assist the police in some small way, perhaps by tripping the offender as he runs past. Of course, I could never do that because the offence concerned could be marijuana possession, smoking in a bar, organizing a petition etc.. In fact, I would usually be tempted to trip up the pursuing policeman.

  • The fact that their jobs have turned into such a god-awful mess can’t really be blamed on the police.

    It can when the police are demanding more and more of the same. When was the last time you heard anyone from the police call for a return to policing as it was commonly known before New Labour got in?

  • When was the last time you heard anyone from the police call for a return to policing as it was commonly known before New Labour got in?

    From senior police – never. From blogging coppers – more often…

  • Otto

    Like Ralph Fisher, I have mixed feelings about Britain’s police. It is all in theory at least easily soluble:

    1. Have chief constables and deputy chief constables directly elected? Set the eligibility criteria very low.

    2. Make a different agency responsible for policing driving and roads. This is the biggest source of friction between the police and the public.

    3. Break up the English Crown Prosecution Service and the Fiscal Service, and instead have elected chief prosecutors for each area.

    4. Remove the legal impediments to village police stations.

    5. Weaken the Home Office’s control on the police.

  • Otto,

    And most importantly …
    6) Have every single officer in every single shift recite Peel’s Principles at the start of every shift.

  • Sunfish

    I promised myself that I’d stay away from this thread, but Otto posted something that merited a reply.

    1. Have chief constables and deputy chief constables directly elected? Set the eligibility criteria very low.

    It’s not a panacea. We have elected sheriffs in most of the US. The standard in Colorado is basically, they must be age 21 and a resident of the county in which they stand for election. And I’m not positive but I think they need to meet minimum standards to attend a POST academy (basically, no legal bar to firearms ownership and no convictions for certain other crimes relating to public integrity: official misconduct, false swearing, etc.)

    That’s basically IMHO gone to the opposite extreme of accountability from the UK’s problem. Over there, the Chief Cons are essentially accountable to the voters in the Home Secretary’s borough, that is to say unaccountable entirely. Here, sheriffs’ offices are so rotten with politics that there’s a certain pressure in some cases to never take any enforcement action against anybody who votes in that county.

    I like how US cities appoint chiefs: the mayor or city manager appoints a chief, so there’s accountability to the people in that jurisdiction, but it’s slightly indirect so as to limit the role of politics in the equation. A similar method is used to appoint the heads of state agencies with policing roles.

    As for electing both the boss and his deputy…that creates a problem in which a deputy who obstructs the department’s function or is insubordinate can’t be tossed overboard. That’s also known as the “who’s actually in charge” problem. Any readers with military experience will recognize this as being a problem of “unity of command.”

    2. Make a different agency responsible for policing driving and roads. This is the biggest source of friction between the police and the public.

    That mostly would render traffic cops completely unavailable for non-traffic events. AIUI, the UK already has a problem in that 50% of sworn non-supervisory personnel never leave the office at all. A reduction in patrol or response personnel is the last thing you guys need.

    That also leaves patrol officers unable to do traffic enforcement. If there’s friction between public and police, then eliminating the police may remove the friction, but at what cost?

    3. Break up the English Crown Prosecution Service and the Fiscal Service, and instead have elected chief prosecutors for each area.

    See my response to “elected chiefs.” In this case, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as that, but I’ve had perfectly good cases torpedoed by the District Attorney because they would have offended someone important.

    4. Remove the legal impediments to village police stations.

    Not being familiar with the UK, what are these impediments?

    5. Weaken the Home Office’s control on the police.

    I would have said ‘Eliminate’ rather than ‘Weaken.’ Over here, the only direct control that the Federals have over us is through their grant-issuing process[1], certain standards for telling the DOJ how many crimes happened in our city, and one statute pertaining to juveniles. The state has a little more: the POST board is an entity of state government, and is responsible for setting academy curricula and certifying police academies.

    I’ve seen the degree of control that the HO claims over policing. If I were either cop or private citizen in the UK I would consider it absolutely f**king intolerable.

    Cleanthes:
    Rote recitation at the shift change isn’t going to solve anything. Rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in US schools has accomplished nothing of value here.

    [1] I bitched about this a month or so ago. No Federal grant money can be given to any public safety agency which does not use the National Incident Management System. If you’ve any firefighting experience, you might remember this as the FireScope Incident Command System. It’s a good system and there’s certainly legitimate reason for every agency to standardize on it, but I have a hell of a problem with the Federals forcing this crap on us from above.

  • Sunfish

    Because everybody cares what a 30-something American cop thinks when he’s never taken a promotion exam: if I were going to reform UK policing, here’s what I’d do:

    1) Remove both policing and courts from the power of the Home Office to tamper with. And make them independent from each other. I’d institute a policy where judges serve for life on good behavior, just to keep them from being intimidated by the government of the day. And police agencies are already set county by county: their chiefs should be selected by the county’s elected council if not directly elected. I favor the former but either would be an improvement over today’s situation.[1]

    2) At present, if you call today you might see a cop next week. This is IMHO due to the fact that too many of them are on special units that, I don’t know what they do but they never leave the station. IMHO, 80-90% of non-supervisory officers should be assigned to patrol (Response, I think it’s called there) and should actually be out humping calls and making street stops. And 80-90% of detectives should be actually assigned to criminal investigations which are beyond Response’ scope, and preparing cases for prosecution. And frankly I’d limit the remaining positions to medical light duty or officers with over 20 years in, or in very rare cases officers with other unique qualifications (pilots, in departments with helicopters for instance.)

    3) Related to #2, I’d fire most if not all command ranks (Chief Inspector on up.) I suppose that I’d give each a chance to beg for his job. However, my attitude is that the purpose of a police department is to respond to emergencies, to prevent crime and to investigate the crimes that occur. The further that any person’s role gets from these three missions, the less likely I’d be to keep him on the payroll.

    3.5) Implied in all of the above is elimination of horseshit Home Office statistical targets, special handling for race-based crime, etc. For instance, right now, a crime is given special treatment if classified as being a race-based crime. For such classification, all that’s required is that any (anonymous) bystander thinks that it’s racist, regardless of the motive of the offender or even the perceptions of the victim. And if a dispatcher assigns an event number (“crime number” in UK-speak) then a detection MUST be entered, which means that someone MUST be either charged or formally warned in a way that shows up on his criminal history. Even if no actual crime occurred. The disposition of “Not a criminal matter, advice given” is basically not an option, even though here in the western US I close calls with it all the time. What would Peel have to say about that, I wonder?

    4) Eliminate specialist firearms squads. If I couldn’t trust a cop armed, I’d fire him. This, however, would need to go hand in hand with a significant liberalization of UK firearms laws as relating to private citizens.[2] If a dispatcher airs “Shots fired” at a school, my area can put six cops with pistols and either carbines or shotguns on scene in under five minutes. There is absolutely no reason why a UK department cannot manage the same. (If you’ve not read “Terror at Beslan” by John Giduck, read it. You’ll understand why I’m touchy on this point.)

    [5] Selection and training needs to be improved. ISTR the basic academy there is fifteen weeks. So was mine. However, in the UK’s academy there’s no firearms training, little subject-control training, little or no emergency driving training, and little or no training in how to conduct an investigation. What the hell do they do all day for 600 hours?

    After that 15 weeks, I had another three months of field training. Basically, I worked under close supervision of a senior officer (he was literally breathing down the back of my neck the entire time). That’s where people actually learn to work. From what I gather, that’s not done in the UK, or at least not well, and that’s another change I’d make.

    I also note that 18-year-olds can become cops in the UK. Not here, or at least not in this state. That lack of maturity may be a big part of the complaints here.

    Brad, the shooting you reference above wasn’t about him being a cop. It was about him being a jilted teenager who had something fundamentally wrong upstairs. Although, I’ll also point out that his department did not have psych exams as part of the hiring process, which is utterly foreign to me here Where The Columbines Grow. Nobody that young should be hired for this, and nobody should be hired without a psych exam and a background investigation far more thorough than a mere PNC/NCIC inquiry.

    BTW, if it’s the Abbate beating that you mention, isn’t he in jail now?

    [1] This is also why I favor written Constitutions, which are beyond the power of Parliament to ignore or change, and which mandate divided government. At present in the UK, any sack who can get 50%+1 of the votes in 50%+1 of the boroughs has the power to destroy everything.

    [2] The only gun law I personally support is a carefully-written “prohibited person” statute, like the US Gun Control Act of 1968 but narrower, and possibly limits on carry into certain sensitive public buildings where there’s already an effective security presence, but I’m of mixed feelings on the latter. Actually, I’m of mixed feelings as well as to “shall-issue” concealed weapons licensing versus Alaska/Vermont “No License Required for Carry” laws. Again, either would be an improvement over the UK’s current regime.

  • Midwesterner

    Rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in US schools has accomplished nothing of value here.

    I was more or less with you there Sunfish up until this line. When you look at the goals of the authors of that National Socialist oath, one could easily make the case that it set into our meta-context certain things that are inherently anti-constitutional. This outcome is certainly something of value to the pledge’s authors.

    Allegiance to Flag (nation) not the principles in the Constitution.
    Allegiance to the government (Republic) not the law in the Constitution.
    One Nation, not states.
    Indivisible, no matter what.
    ‘Under God’, who’s?
    With good sounding platitudes for all.

    If we are going to swear oaths of loyalty in this federation called the USA, why don’t we choose a military or civil oath invoking the Constitution?

  • Sunfish

    Mid,

    I mis-spoke. I meant that the Pledge has accomplished nothing desirable. Alas, when I mutely stand politely and say nothing at all when other people pledge loyalty to inanimate objects, I’m apparently unpatriotic.

    I’m all for oaths of office to become a cop, requiring allegiance to the Constitution itself rather than to a cloth symbol. However, we already have that. Not positive but I think police in the UK have something similar.

  • Midwesterner

    It funny. I occasionally attend council and commission meetings that begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. So, instead of standing there mute, I’ve been playing around with different phrases. I even have a draft post in my files that if it ever comes to something I may put up. I’m trying to maintain the cadence of the Bellamy pledge because of its familiarity but provide content with the offensive parts removed and desirable principles in their place.

    Its (somewhat residual) place in our traditions is an opportunity to put thoughts of our guiding principles into the beginning of public functions. Use it the way it was originally used but with principled text for contrary purpose to its original anti-constitutional one.

  • Sunfish

    Rob Fisher

    If she let me off because what I did posed no danger, then she was preventing the enforcement of an un-just law. If she let me off because I was polite to her, then she was a thug dispensing arbitrary punishment who I managed to appease.

    I thought this was worth answering before bedtime.

    Most of the time, what informs the paper-vs-warning decision is, what course of action will change how the driver drives, at least in this particular place? I realize that you didn’t like the notion that politeness may have saved you a citation, but look at it another way. People who are polite when stopped, all else being equal, probably aren’t problem drivers. Whatever happened this time was an honest misunderstanding that can be corrected without pen to paper. People who are less pleasant are also less likely to slow down next time or whatever. Or so has been my experience: People who are civil the first time I talk to them, we never seem to have the same conversation a second time.

    Which means that the officer was looking for the least-intrusive way of correcting what she thought was a safety problem.

    At least, that’s the case in what I’m trying to visualize here. I may be 180 degrees off in what I’m seeing from what actually happened in your case. Trying to convey all of the facts of ten minutes of your life in a text-only medium is not a simple matter at all.