It came as quite a surprise as I turned on to Baxtergate the other day to see a real live, walking copper. He looked nothing like Dixon of Dock Green or even PC Nick Rowan from Heartbeat.
No, this copper would not have looked out of place in a USA swat team. He wore what looked like a black stab vest from which hung his pepper spray, Taser, kwik cuffs and mobile phone. His black combat style trousers were tucked into the top of his boots.
Not the image of a traditional British ‘bobby’ who was there to detect crime and keep the peace with the consent of those he served, a trusted member of the community they policed. Here was an officer of the now, armed, ready and rarely seen in public.
Seeing him made me ask the question – what is the police force for in this century and why have they lost the trust and support of a growing number of people?
As Boris Johnson strives to save Britain in the next 80 days, it is a question we should all be asking. What kind of policing do we want?
Why should politicians and chief constables dictate to us the style of policing we get? After all, we pay a precept specifically towards policing. Now that the PM is promising more coppers to fill the extra prison places, shouldn’t we have the right to say where we want those resources to be put? Shouldn’t we have the right to demand the police regain our trust?
When I joined the police, it was drilled into all the recruits that we were locally appointed citizens whose powers came from the Crown for the prevention and detection of crime and the preservation of the peace.
It was a time when most villages had their own bobby and police house. We were part of the communities in which we served and we policed accordingly. Trust was a major factor in the way the system worked. I knew that in the villages I looked after, there would be an army of people willing to help out and be the eyes and ears of the law.
Face to face communication was important and every burglary victim was guaranteed a visit, even if we knew there was no chance of finding the villains. Reassurance was just as important as detection. People mattered and being there for them was the most important thing. Knowing the members of our communities solved numerous crimes and saved many lives.
Is it impossible to return to local policing again?
With the promise of thousands of more officers, surely the public should be allowed to decide how these new resources are allocated. Is it so outrageous to ask our chief constables to have bobbies back on the beat, out of their vans and on foot patrol?
It is low-level, local crime that causes the most distress in Yorkshire. If the Government is serious about fighting crime, they have to know that it is public disorder, petty burglary, car theft and domestic violence that the public fear the most. These crimes can only be prevented by having local police that are integrated in the community they serve.
Putting officers on the streets is a small step towards reassuring the public that politicians care.
Boris Johnson cannot just spout empty promises in the hope of getting votes. Now is the time for real action.
It is totally pointless having a police force that is so ‘woke’ and politically correct that it is frightened of stopping and searching people for fear of being called racist or breaching human rights. The police have to be able to do their jobs without fear.
We need officers from all ethnic groups and all parts of the community. The idea that all officers should have degrees is totally pointless. The public want coppers to have gumption, bravery and common sense. What is the point in having officers that know more about health and safety than jumping in a canal to save a life? It is all well and good to promote diversity, but this should not be put before locking up muggers and villains.
Social cohesion will only be achieved when all members of the community feel safe. This can only happen when the police have the resources and staff numbers that they need to do the job.
Boris Johnson has to put money back into policing. Budgets cannot be cut any more. The thin blue line is virtually invisible.
A well-funded police force that has enough money to do the work the public want it to do saves money in other areas.
Trust in the police will only return when they are seen to be doing their jobs. It is in-built within the British psyche that the police should always be a visible deterrent to crime – and proactive in its duties.
Then, and only then, will the police regain the trust of those its serves.
GP Taylor is a former police officer. An author and broadcaster, he lives in Whitby.