Friday, January 10, 2014

Modern day police, the media, and the public.

Recent days have seen some terrible stories out there, deeply damaging to the reputations of the police, and I should point out from the start that the stories are what the media are reporting, and not necessarily based on cold hard facts, or indeed contain all the facts available. But more focus on what makes the hard hitting headline.

I think it is fair to say one thing for sure, the reputation and trust in the police is something that has always been a talking point in society. Minority groups, ethnic groups, immigrants, people of certain social stature are just a few of the areas that relationships with the police not only have 'room for improvement' but also ones that are unlikely to ever really see huge changes in perception, both ways in some cases.

The most recent case to really blow up was of course the conclusion of the Mark Duggan inquest, where it was ruled as 'unarmed and lawful killing'. Accepting that Mr Duggan was indeed unarmed at the moment he was struck by bullets fired by SO19 officers. However the report is keen to impress upon people that he was 'at some point' in possession of a firearm, and one the officers were informed he would have in his possession.

I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the case itself, it is a very controversial case to say the least. I have my own personal opinions on what happened, having sifted through a bit of the evidence which has reached the public domain. However will be keen to see the full and official report whenever that becomes available.
But one of the most focused upon issues in the Duggan case is of course the belief that the officers colluded with each other before making their official reports. Reports that would be later called into question. 'Facts' such as all the reports apparently referring to a gold vehicle, when the vehicle was in fact silver, point to the fact that all the officers based their reports from a similar pool of information. The likelyhood of all the officers independently mistakenly noting it as a gold vehicle is pretty slim. The is IF indeed these 'facts' reported by the media are found to be true. Or if it is another example of the media short quoting in order to get a sensational story.

Speaking of the media and their reporting of the case, when  the verdict was given, watching all media outlets, I could not help but feel the sensational and aggressive way the story was being reported was in some way almost insighting a violent and explosive reaction, maybe hoping for something again on par with the riots of 2011.

The next story involving the police which made big headlines at the time, and has come back in to the public's crosshairs this morning is the Andrew Mitchell 'Plebgate' affair. With one of the officer's,  PC Wallis, who was claiming to have witnessed the events, having now resigned, adding more fuel to the fire of why people should trust the police.

One of the things that really bites for me is my previous application to join the Met about 5 years ago, and having been refused based on a minor criminal conviction I received some 17 years prior to applying. While on the one hand I can understand the Police stance on the matter, that their name should not be able to be questioned should a serving officer be required to give evidence. With the word of someone with a criminal record being far easier to call into question, than that of someone with no record.
But on the other hand when you read stories in the media (true or hyped) of officers being charged with offences but kept in service, or other officers like Wallis who dare to lie on such a high and public level, when already given so much trust and serving in SO16, DPG. Sometimes I see these things, and it for a moment trivialises my 'offence' and I feel cheated from not being allowed to serve. Especially given how much involvement I have had with the police since then, with a lot of assistance being given.

Anyway, this is about the police, not me, so onwards and upwards as they say.

Growing up as a kid back in the 80's, The days of wooden truncheons, big helmets, and very little PPE being worn. The thought of calling a copper a name was bad enough, but god forbid considering laying hands on one. Respect for the police was inbred, knowing that they had the power to make life a little miserable for you, knew the people on their patch, and kept a close eye on anyone they knew had been released from prison following one of their arrests. In the social groups I grew up in from hitting my teens, I have crystal clear recollections of some of the encounters of my friends and the officers. But as much as some wanted to avoid coming into contact with the police, the respect was always there in one way or another.

In the current day and age, the last couple of generations have somehow turned that message around, and it seems that there are huge social groups of people out there who have an unsubstantiated hatred for the police, just for merely existing. No interactions, no run ins, just life long taught messages of 'hate the police, they are bad'. For some I can start to understand why this may happen. If someone close to you has been affected by corruption of some form from within the police force, a victim of racial hatred on one of its rare occasions from within the force, or any other sort of hard hitting miscarriage of justice, then it is only natural to in some way preach hatred of the establishment. But the masses who claim to hate the police, and want anarchy, are just opportunist little thugs riding on the wave of social disruption for pleasure or gain.

Going back to Mark Duggan for a moment, and the riots of 2011. I remember them very well as they occurred around the time my mother passed away, so what was already a strange time for me, became even more confusing. Coping with a changing world around you is hard enough, even harder when the social fabric around you is tearing and burning.
The explosion of anger, violence and destruction on the streets of London, and then other cities was maybe ignited by the shooting of Mark Duggan, but the actual fuel for the continuation of the unrest was 90% based on the sheer lack of respect some generations have for the law, the police, and society as a whole. Most people running around smashing things up and stealing had NO idea about the shooting in Tottenham, let alone the circumstances. And of course the reports had not even been submitted by the SO19 officers at that point, let alone become public.

Still, all the while, whilst these mindless little thugs ran around causing terror and distress, the police, the exact people the protest was about, the people who's behaviour was in question, were out on the streets, protecting the wellbeing and the property of the members of public. Like many things in life, we are keen to forget the good and focus on the few small bad things that happen. You only have to check an online review website to find this. Sites such as TripAdvisor are full of negative comments about hotels, carriers and other holiday based reviews, but very few take the time to compliment a service provider for something good they did. Its the same in all walks of life. Now I know the Met and other police forces are hardly tour operators or McDonalds servers, but the principal is the same. We LOVE to moan, and shout names loudly, but it seems we are too shy to say nice things.

Now so far I have focused on the public and the police, but there is a third party here, and that is the media. Like the fire triangle, it is quite apt that this story which also results it high temperatures and explosive events should have 3 also. The oxygen, like the public is all around us, lots of it, found everywhere, then there is the fuel, in this case the police, not everywhere, but usually found in areas where fire is possible. But it seems that both can exist, albeit in a volatile environment, but they can exist without the fire. Friction causes unrest, unrest which attracts heat, aka the media, and the rest is history. Like the public, the media sometimes seem hellbent on causing a bigger and bigger story, taking what is a small smouldering mess, and fanning it, publicising it, and giving it more and more attention, until there is fire.

The events in Tottenham after Mark Duggan's shooting would more than likely have remained 'quite low key' or lets say local, had the media not decided to sensationalise, and hype the situation to a point where it was almost sold to the bored and angry younger generations as the right thing to do to vent their anger and pass some time. Looting, violence, life changing destruction of property, all apparently in the name of a man very few knew, and with facts that were at this point still very cloudy. Something even his family seem keen in public to distance themselves from. But thanks to the media, the death of Mark Duggan and the riots of 2011 will forever be entwined in history together. Regardless of what the family or police would like.

This of course is not the first time that this has happened. A few years prior we had the 'anti capitalist' marches in London which were later to be known as the MayDay Riots which gained a reputation for themselves, and all future May Day protests were tarnished with the same brush, and then of course we cannot forget the G20 protest / riots which  unfortunately will always be remembered more for the sad death of Ian Tomlinson rather than the behaviour and actions of masked cowards which created the stage for the interaction in the first place. That's not to take away from what happened in the incident, but just to put it into perspective.

There have been many occasions in which the police's behaviour has been called into question, usually when someone from the public has fallen victim to the actions of someone in uniform. But its strange how those who call for action, those who demand the police are reeled in react when the scene changes slightly.
All matters above have referred to incidents where the police have in some way instigated an interaction with an individual, and their subsequent actions have been somehow questionable in the eyes of the public and of course the media.
So lets switch to the case of Drummer Lee Rigby, and his brutal and public murder. The police were called to attend a fluid event, and one which had many many permutations of how it could end up. With the police receiving radio updates as they sped to the scene, SO19 officers arrived on scene, and within seconds of doing so were set upon by one of the killers. Running towards the car with a meat cleaver, he was gunned down by the passenger of one of the SO19 vehicles in order to protect the driver of the vehicle.
The officers then switched roles to care givers and approached the man who was laying on the floor, as the officer approached he noticed a handgun and fired at the man again. No shots that day were fatal, but both suspects were taken to ground following being hit by shots from the SO19 officers.

Amazingly, the reaction from the majority of the public is that these two men should have been killed on the spot, that the SO19 officers in the blink of an eye should have played judge and jury and sentenced both men to immediate execution by firing squad. Judge Dredd springs to mind here. It is all very well to suggest such a thing, but one thing is always overlooked in situations like this.

Lets look at SO19 for a minute and see what they do as a day to day role. This is far from a complete duty list, but I want to focus on two of them.
There are planned operations, where they support other groups and offer firearms protection to all officers involved. Close attention is paid to detail, information is gathered and studied about the location. All officers go in with a good understanding of the situation they may face. The outcome of the operation will be considered a 'success' if it ends in a way which was foreseen during planning, I am pretty sure this involves the consideration that the target person / persons may be shot in the process. The aim is to not have anything happen outside the parameters of the plan.
Then there are unplanned and dynamic situations. These are the sort of operations called in by the public or officers requesting support. SO19 officers are required to attend a location they may have little or no knowledge of, and have an effective impact in ending the situation in a way which remains within guidelines. Sadly this may sometimes involve firing lethal rounds and killing someone.
In the latter type of call, which the Woolwich murder resulted in two people being shot but not killed, much to the public's dismay, there is actually a good lesson here. The officers do a lot of training for many situations, but as anyone knows, life is NOT a rehearsal, and you only get one go at it. With most people believing the 2 men should have simply been executed, it shows our primeval thought process that says fight or flight, kill or be killed, and in this case for some reason we accept it.
The reason we the public accept it is simple, hindsight! When making these judgements and decisions we are armed with the plain and simple facts, these two men had just run someone over, then brutally tried to hack his head from his body. We saw it reported over and over in the media, we were told graphic detail.
The officers however would have received a call to an armed assault, possibly a murder, with the suspects still armed and posing a threat to the public, their job is to apprehend the person, NOT execute them.
On their arrival, even after the threat of a machete attack, and then having a gun pointed at them, the officers were able to avoid killing these men, but instead subdue them and apprehend them. Their principal role.

When Mark Duggan was shot, the same rules of engagement would have existed, the same goal would have been in sight. Unfortunately, no matter how good a shot, no matter how much practise on the range, or how good the weapon, the result of a gunshot is never a certain thing, especially when taken at any range further than point blank. Numerous people have been shot multiple times, some through vital organs, but lived to tell the tale. Others have been shot in seemingly 'harmless' places such as the leg, and the bullet has ricochet and travelled through the body causing death. Of course the officers are trained to practise lethal and non-lethal shots, but even some of the best shots in the world cant guarantee the outcome, unless of course its a glass bottle or a clay pigeon.

I guess what I am trying to get at here comes down to the following.
1/Regardless of belief, 99.9% of people who sign up to become police officers do not do it with the dream of hurting people, causing upset, and ruining peoples lives. A small percentage might have a bit of an ego trip going on early days, but generally those people leave the job after a short while, once they realise how challenging and horrible the job can be.
2/ Racial hatred is a nasty thing, and very much a two way path. The hatred aimed at, and received by both sides of the walls does nothing to help relationships, and as it perpetuates from generation to generation it gets deeper and angrier. Once it just led to vocal exchanges, and the occasional physical incident. Nowadays it is something that can arise from the smallest of interactions, with the race card being played all too often, and frequently unnecessarily. One that the media love to sink their teeth into, as if there is a race related incident involving the police, there is potential for a far bigger story.
3/ All police are not corrupt liars. The media would sometimes like to you to believe they are, as I said previously, keen to dig up all the dirt but not so keen to highlight some of the amazing acts of bravery from officers of the police forces up and down the country. Examples like these Police Bravery Awards

Finally, its quite simple, without the police, regardless of what the hardnuts of the Manchester estates would have you believe, or the anti capitalists, anti-authoritarians and all the mindless people who would love a police-less society, without the police, without law and order the UK would fall into genuine anarchy. Anyone who believes the country would be a better place without police is sadly misguided.

There is a lot of work to be done out there, relationships will never be perfect, the crime someone commits will always be petty, and the officers should focus on someone else. Speeding will always be trivial, anti social behaviour will be present until families re-take responsibility of their kids... And so on.

But the big issue out there, for me, is the way these things are perceived by the public, and sadly the main perception of the police is provided by the story hungry media. Its a vicious circle, and one that wont improve any time soon. As the police increase their attempts at public interactions with open days and events, the public seem to just shy away from these attempts. David Cameron once coined the phrase 'hug a hoodie' well maybe its time to roll out 'cuddle a copper' and break the barriers down once and for all.

If you have got to the end of this blog / rant, I congratulate you. I didn't think I ever would!

PS, I want to add a big fat thank you to all the police officers out there, putting their lives on the line day after day, and making London a safer place.
Hats off to all those who use Twitter as a medium to break the barriers down, and encourage conversation and interaction with the otherwise shy public. Shouts out to.

There are many more, but this is a handful that I follow day to day, and enjoy interacting with.

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