Yesterday’s events at Russel Square reminded me of something I have thought for a while; how fantastic our police officers are and how much credit they deserve for creating the people-police relationship we enjoy in this country.
Police at Russel Square this morning
Yesterday could have been so much worse. First; if the perpetrator had a gun. Just like those men that tried to kidnap an RAF officer and those that attacked Lee Rigby, you can only imagine how much more catastrophic it could have been if they had automatic rifles and engaged in firearms training. Neither of which are readily available here. Thank God. As it was, the attacker at Russel Square was tazered, affording us vital intelligence about the how’s and why’s of the heinous attack.
Second, if the police officer had a gun. The killing of Jean Charles De Menezes in 2006, when an officer mistook him for a terror suspect was awful. But these kind of deaths happen every week in the United States and are more common than you think in other nations too.
Third, if the public wasn’t supportive of the work of our police force. And this ties in with the former two reasons. The status of our police force as equal partners with the general public, fighting for a common goal, is deeply embedded in our psyche, whether you know it or not. The police are the people and even hardened criminals grudgingly accept this, hence why it’s almost unheard of that police men and women are killed or seriously injured. The episodes involving PC Dave Phillips, Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes are as rare as they are tragic.
The family of PC Dave Phillips receive a standing ovation at Goodison Park
For the last few months, and especially during my trip to California, I witnessed first-hand the divisions between the police and the people in the United States. I stumbled across an NRA demonstration outside the capitol building in Sacramento. Positioned overlooking the cluster of protesters were two police officers, wearing shades, looking stern, on the backs of horses. I cracked a joke about being a ginger limey getting sun burnt and got short shrift. A demonstrator muttered in my ear; “what do you think of our police? Arrogant and detached aren’t they?”. A few weeks later and a spate of shootings have intensified the detachment between the boys in blue and everyone else. Think of the very public competition between blue lives matter and black lives matter there.
My two friends from the Sacramento Police department
In sharp contrast, when witnessing the resignation of David Cameron through the gates of Downing Street ten days later, I shared a joke with a London bobby who was trying to reason with a drunken member of the public. All the officers were smiling, even the ones at the gates holding sub-machine guns. The atmosphere was cordial.
I know these are just anecdotal snapshots. But every week on Saturday, when I went to Goodison Park, I saw the same thing as a kid and an adult. Even in the heat of pre and post-match football, the police seemed very much “of the people” not “for the people”. Engaging with the fans, not lauding their uniforms over them, not nit picking or being pedantic; just common sense, humanistic policing. I think the anecdotal is important when it comes to peoples perception of the police.
London Bobbies back in the day
Other police forces could learn a lot from the constabularies here about how to walk with the public rather than face off against them.
Yes – there are problems in Britain (the 2011 London riots being the best example). Yes – police officers individually and collectively make mistakes. But they are fundamentally part of communities, rather than a separate, aloof force, doing some distant work. They do so much more than arrest people.
Backing them up is a long History of community policing going right back to Victorian times. The fact our police don’t carry firearms is the best example of a police force that tries not to differentiate itself too much. That could all change with terrorism on the rise, I hope it doesn’t.
So, this blog is a celebration of our amazing police officers, some of whom I’m lucky enough to know personally. Being a teacher, I share in common with them a sense of always being battered from all angles. Keep walking tall and be proud to wear the badge; you are a credit to this nation.