The Police. Whose side are they on?

The police make me angry. The police keep me and my family safe. The police breach our rights. The police are professional colleagues I respect. The police are the bad guys. The police are public servants facing cuts too.

It’s a conundrum.

I first put on my marching boots in the 1980s. I’ve been subjected to physical force by uniformed officers who couldn’t be held accountable because they wouldn’t display their badge numbers. More than 20 years ago I was squeezed with other protesters into a breathless crush on Hungerford Bridge before the term ‘kettling’ had ever been used to describe this containment technique. I spent years thinking of the police as, at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, ‘the enemy’.

Then my work brought me into professional contact with the police. I found exactly what you find whenever you start to work closely with an organisation you didn’t understand before: the police force is stuffed full of people who are, in their own way, as dedicated to excellence in public service as I am. There are people who are passionate about child protection; people who are energetic activists pushing to see that perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice; there are those who have arrived at just the right balance of humour, cynicism and wry boundary-setting to enable them to engage really well with young people who would otherwise find themselves in big trouble; front-line officers who work hard to get to know and understand the communities they serve; backroom staff who go the extra mile to support their front-line colleagues, despite frequent lack of credit.  Of course, I’ve met the thuggish, the discriminatory, the obtuse, the stereotypical too. But on a day-to-day basis, the police are among my professional partners, earning and deserving my respect.

Now, like so many other public sector workers, their profession is under attack. They are among those who are – as Mervyn King (Governor of the Bank of England) points out – paying for this financial crisis, despite being in no way responsible for causing it. Staff numbers will be cut, terms and conditions will be worsened. The same amount of work will need to be done by fewer people, who will – generally – be worse paid than before. If policing suffers as a result of this crisis, the public – the whole of society – will suffer too.

I will be marching again on March 26 in support of all our public services; to protect them from decimation, to protect them from politicisation; to protect them from inappropriate privatisation. This includes policing. I hope to be marching in #solidarity with those who want to protect our police.

And yet… and yet…

The behaviour of UK police towards protesters and demonstrators in the recent (and distant) past has significantly undermined that solidarity. Of course the police must uphold the law and keep the public safe, but our democratic rights include a legitimate right to protest. In many cases the police have used spurious powers, dangerous tactics or outright violence to inhibit people’s ability to excercise that right.

For solidarity to be possible, this must stop.

The police can manage large crowds and difficult situations without resorting to kettling; football violence has been contained without mounted police charges. Policing doesn’t have to be thuggish or intimidatory in order to be effective.   

The police are now asking for public support in the face of cuts. On twitter the hastag #protectourpolice is up and running and I have been following the responses and engagement with interest. Among many very good arguments for throwing our support behind the police, I have noticed three unwelcome threads. The first is a tendency to single out the police for support while seeming relaxed about the other cuts. Here is a good example: “The irony is, those policing the demos face harsher cuts than those protesting #ProtectOurPolice”

  • Let’s not get into a ‘my cuts are bigger than your cuts’ competition. We need teachers and nurses, social workers and sexual health workers, local government officers and coastguards, civil servants and family support workers as well as police. And we need them all to be respected and properly rewarded for the vital work they do.

Second, I have seen some police commentators denigrating other emergency services – stating for example that the fire brigade or ambulance service won’t attend incidents unless the police are there first. This may sometimes be true, although in my experience it depends on the nature of the emergency, but even where that is the case, it’s not necessary to knock another service in order to make the case for your own.

  • Let’s show some mutual respect for the important work that all our organisations do, by standing together in support of a network of public services that collectively provide the robust social infrastructure that enables all of society to function well.

Finally, I have seen some commentary that suggests that it is only cuts to front-line officers that matter. As someone who works in a service where back office staff have been subjected to efficiency measures (by which I mean that jobs have been cut), I know only too well that the work these people have been doing is real, necessary and doesn’t go away. When back office jobs are lost, that work gets passed instead to front-line workers, compromising their ability to do their own jobs well and in most cases leading to the use of an over-qualified and more expensive resource to do work that could be more effectively carried out elsewhere. This will be true in the police service too, where cuts to back office staff will inevitably impact on a front-line, which is in any case facing cuts too.

  • Let’s tell the truth about the value of so-called ‘back office’ work and let’s value our colleagues who help to create and sustain the environment in which front-line staff can do their jobs well.

In Wisconsin, some really dastardly tactics have been employed to attack public services and public servants. This video shows what happened when the police were asked to clear protesters from the Capitol building in Madison:

As you can see, the police in Wisconsin saw themselves as part of a bigger picture and showed solidarity with other public service workers. They fairly, squarely, safely and respectfully took sides.

I value the police service, both personally and professionally. I would be pleased and proud to march against cuts to policing at the same time as I march against cuts to the other hugely important services that so many of us take for granted. As twitter is used to organise and manage support for the March for the Alternative on 26 March, I think marchers should be considering showing support for the police as part of that march. As for the police, I don’t think that the hashtag #protectourpolice should ever be tweeted alone. I believe it should always be tweeted with #solidarity in support of other public service workers too.

It’s time, maybe, for our police to take sides.

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8 thoughts on “The Police. Whose side are they on?

  1. Marina,You sum the conundrum up well, but I think you’re being naive to think that the police will change, though I would dearly love to be proved wrong.Why do I say this, simply because the police have only started to cry foul when it is their T&C that are being targeted. They were happy to beat, harangue, taunt and brutalise others who have dared voice their concerns for cuts elsewhere. As you would know many of those protesters are not directly affected, yet still stand shoulder to shoulder with those that are, that in essence is solidarity. Solidarity for the police appears to be standing shoulder to shoulder with their fellow officer, even if that means covering for their unlawful actions. There is nothing selfless in their actions.Sadly I very much doubt I will be proved wrong.

  2. some excellent points raised there. My concern is that you failed to mention the mindless thugs in the last protests who destroyed the real reason the genuine protesters were there for and that’s why certain tactics had to be used. You can’t stand there and sift out those causing trouble from those that are not because as you know, they disappear among the genuine protesters.

  3. @responseplod – ‘failed to mention the mindless thugs’ there really is no need to speak of your colleagues in such a derogatory manner. Thugs yes, but i’m sure they have a mind and are able to distiguish between right and wrong.wrong – to drag a disabled man across the streetwrong – to CS gas ukuncut peaceful protestwrong – put man in hospital with serious head injurieswrong – beating Ian tomlinson to the ground then covering up your actionswrong – blair peachwrong – John Charles DeMenzesI could go on, pleas understand the public DO have long memories.

  4. There’s no need what so ever to get personal especially about my colleagues who do a hard job and you are talking about individual incidents which I cannot possibly comment on and the media do a fantastic job of only showing you want you want to see! I know a great deal about the Tomlinson incident which was NOT shown on TV or even mentioned about by the media and seeing as you seem to get your information from these defected sources I would be careful before you start quoting so called "Facts"Seeing as you are up on individual incidents what about the thugs who went to that lawful protest only to cause massive disruption to the real cause and just an excuse to fight with the "establishment"?A fire extinguisher thrown which nearly killed people belowMe getting a lump of concrete straight on my headA van totally destroyed and don’t you dare say it was conveniently left there as it wasn’t. Once again media speculationWhat about the fence posts thrown at me along with anything else for that matter?What about shoppers running in terror as shops are smashed up (wouldn’t have happened if the kettle was put in place)The Royal Family attacked.A French family with small children viewing Parliament square terrified because masked rioters started throwing objects in there direction (not shown on the tv)Need I go on?! If there was no smashing up of items then there would be no need for the tactics used.When we had our protest 2 years ago we showed how it was meant to be done. Politely and effieciently.If you act like spoilt children and start smashing things up don’t be surprised to be treated as such.If you think the police are bad here for policing riots try rioting abroad and see how far you will get. Baton rounds water cannons.Demonstrating is your lawful right. Don’t take the piss out of it because of these mindless few it could be withdrawn completely.And for the record I totally agreed with the real reason for the demonstration. In fact we were thanked those days by numerous people on the demoSomething else you didnt see on the TV!!

  5. Responseplod, you really are a treat. You ‘know things about the tomlinson case’, are you actually supporting the actions of your TSG thug? What is it you know? Was Mr Tomlinson walking too slowly for your liking?I know a thing or two about the Tomlinson case;- I know the police lied about events that day- I know the police officer who struck Ian didn’t come forward until the guardian released tapes- I know that no other officers came forward as witness to the thuggish conduct of the TSG officer until the tapes were brought forward- I know that not all the officers in the video have come forward to the investigation (maybe you’re one of them ?)- I know that the officer Simon Harwood had previous for violent conduct, that he left Surrey police and avoided disciplinary then joined the Met. (a widely employed tactic)- In my opinion, Simon Harwood has got away with murder, why? because he’s a police officer.And please don’t suggest that the media have got it in for the police! You really are having a laugh. You’ve been in cahoots with the Murdoch empire for some considerable time. (ref NOW phone tapping cases)The police regularly provoke a response from protesters, be that by horse charges, kettling, battoning or indeed the agent provocateur that the police have recently (after denying) admitted were operating amongst protesters at G20. Maybe it was your boys and girls smashing the windows and scaring the tourists??

  6. I’m very torn, I come from a long line of policemen (2 uncles, grandfather, 2 great uncles; aunt was a civilian). I was brought up to think of the police as our protectors, so I’m alarmed at the response of (particularly) the Met to the recent protests. Will be interesting to see what happens now they’re not being bribed with increased pay, as they were in the Thatcher era.Quite rightly, we want officers out on the street rather than doing paperwork but, seemingly, politicians seem to think that paperwork does itself! Personally, I don’t want criminals getting off because procedure hasn’t been followed correctly, and that’s were good administrative support comes in. Cold cases get solved because there are decent records kept.If it’s any indication, my uncle, now in his late 80s, says there’s no way he’d join the modern police service. And isn’t it odd that they’re now more aggressive as a ‘service’ than they were as a ‘force’?

  7. ResponsePlod tweeted this earlier about the above image "so who do I as an officer complain to when bottles of piss, fence posts ripped up concrete fire extinguishers etc are thrown at me by people hidden amongst the genuine protesters? Do I run home to my mum? No, I have to stand there and take it. Is that fair? No!". My response was "no-one’s saying you should! You go and arrest that bastard and there’ll be plenty of us willing to help…I shouldn’t have to suffer for said individual and neither should thousands of innocent people…Even if you can’t spot the perp there and then, kettling huge crowds does nothing to increase the likelihood of you catching that person, and only turns more people against you. If anything, we’re all at greater risk by being contained and even if there is cctv footage of the criminal, and I accept that kettling could be a way to scour the crowd trying to find them – but police don’t enter kettles, you’re just as likely to find that person out of the kettle ie next day etc, the cost (I don’t mean monetary) of holding all those people is far less than what you’ll achieve." If all that makes sense! Remember they were rushed tweets on the Tube before we went underground!

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