It’s surprising how many people seem to have developed some sort of amnesia during the pseudo lockdown and also how many people have ignored most of the restrictions, while others, whom one would have had down as level-headed and sensible, have either turned into curtain-twitching guardians of the collective good, or taken to clapping and banging pans to support our NHS –although to be fair the rainbow graffiti and flag-waving seems to have subsided as time went on and people realised that perhaps not all personnel of ‘our’ NHS were the heroic figures that the media made them out to be; or maybe it was the stories emerging locally that many people had either had their surgery cancelled or various other scans and procedures that, to them, were worrying and urgent were cancelled, for in some cases for months.
Old Ben for example, one of the characters of St. Mary on the Wold who has spent his entire life as a resident, independent and not intruding on neighbours or anyone else for that matter, with no family living close by, suddenly found that his independence was curtailed. Not driving since his eyesight deteriorated, his visit to ‘town’ twice a week by bus was his only respite. Even this small pleasure is now quite difficult as local buses which in ‘normal times’ are infrequent, since lockdown are almost none existent. A friendly and concerned neighbour eventually stepped in and arranged for weekly supermarket supplies to be delivered and day to day items were collected from a nearby general store.
But, as he told me from two meters away when we met one day, he, walking to the shop, and me taking my daily exercise: “The worst thing is not getting out into town once or twice a week for a couple of hours, but actually not seeing anyone when I’m at home. I get the odd phone call from an old friend if we didn’t chat on the phone, but I wouldn’t talk to anyone from one day until the next.”
Couple of weeks later and our quick talk had raised some interesting topics, mostly about panic buying, neighbours and the ‘appalling’, in his words, news broadcasts by the main TV channels and the repeats of reality programmes, sometimes 10 years old. “I’ve seen Midsummer Murders now so many times I know the words,” was his comment one day. “At least the weather is nice and warm, and I can get on the garden.”
People either oblivious to, or ignoring the restrictions, are a topic many people air in the comment sections of the popular press. At various times we have, according to the media, turned into a nation of covidiots, speeding down the byways and highways at breakneck speed or hurtling along motorways at speeds, in one reported case, in excess of 140 miles an hour. Although just what one of these stealth police patrols was doing patrolling a deserted motorway at the height of the lockdown was not reported. Good to see though that speeding drivers were still a policing priority, at a time when only the chosen ‘key workers’ were supposed to be venturing out from home.
The emergency has shown up some anomalies in how ‘our’ police are managed and resources prioritised. Just how a ‘civilian’ operative of a speed camera van is prioritised as a key essential worker is one of the mysteries of policing, as is the sudden dearth of police community support officers, although if they are there, just who and what they are supporting in these difficult and trying times for many is also unclear.
Just who or what policy is leading ‘our’ police ‘service’ at the moment? Something seems to have gone horribly wrong. The much vaunted Police & Crime Commissioners for the most part have been conspicuously quiet on the events of the last few weeks, although of course they are in a difficult position, elected for a five year term which was unilaterally extended because of the crisis, as have all elections for everything been postponed. Not that these posts have been the success that Prime Minister ‘Call Me Dave’ presumably thought they would be, but who knows? Either way, if extending the tenure of and adding to the politicization of policing by commissioners elected on a low turnout and presumably low interest by the public is anything to go by, certainly during this covid emergency, it is difficult to see any evidence that they are representing the views of their voters or holding Chief Constables to account.
Certainly somebody needs to be held to account and explain to a disbelieving public, why obviously disproportionate action has been taken by various ‘police services’ when people have been given fixed penalty ‘fines’ for minor offences against the covid laws or guidance by either poorly trained or managed police officers, while at the same time standing by when public order and criminal damage offences are taking place in full view of uniformed officers, and others running away from disorder to the accompaniment of the mob chanting ‘Run, Piggy, run.’
It seems that we now have selective policing and selective application of the law. What happened to policing without fear or favour? Common purpose policing, diversity and health and safety have seen policing by consent twisted, if the actions of police – not only in London but across the United Kingdom – mean policing by the consent of the mob. Not only do we now have political police and crime commissioners, we have politically motivated senior police officers and Chief Constables deciding which laws they will instruct their officers to enforce; one Chief Constable going so far as to criticise the Home Secretary for her comments. Odd really as the police service in the United Kingdom is under the control of the Home Secretary and funded 51% by the Home Office (and us) for that purpose.
Now it seems, to coin a ‘common purpose’ phrase, we have officers in the police service and at senior levels who are acting ‘outside of authority’. Common purpose is now part of police management; there is only one place where that will lead and it is not a pretty prospect. But not to worry, senior police have all matters in hand even at a local level; it seems that if their national spokespersons are to be heeded, we should all stay at home. Stay safe, protect and save ‘our’ police’.
Part 2 of Safety first will be published here tomorrow.