It was a bit of a dull night on television last night so I found myself watching the sort of show I wouldn't normally watch - the Cars, Cops and Criminals over on BBC1 - which concentrated on the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) equipment by the boys in blue - or rather the boys and girls in luminous yellow. I'm not entirely sure of the point of the programme - maybe it was supposed to be reassuring or maybe it was supposed to be informative.
The alarm bells started ringing when some poor copper thrust in front of the cameras to explain ANPR told us that it doesn't discriminate.
Eh? Surely the whole point of it is to discriminate? You know, differentiate between illegal and legal cars? That's discrimination, mate. Looks like all those diversity training courses have addled the brains of the average plod.
The next thing that became apparent was why it is we have unprecedented numbers of policemen in service, but we hardly ever see one strolling around the streets. The programme showed a briefing for "Operation Utah" in which a hundred or more uniformed police officers sat looking bored while some senior plod ran through a PowerPoint presentation. The Sweeney it ain't.
Then this hundred or so coppers trooped off en masse to hang around the Severn bridge crossing waiting for something to happen. Granted, they did catch someone carrying a substantial amount of cocaine, but on the whole the bulk of the catch consisted of petty offences like expired tax discs. Of course, even petty offences add to the statistics of solved crime so they are all worthwhile to the top brass, but every offence will also mean hours of paperwork and even less time for the average bobby to be on patrol.
And it struck me, while watching this, that this sort of thing is happening up and down the country every day. Somewhere there is a large group of police officers sitting around watching a PowerPoint presentation given by some superintendent on the fast track regarding some "operation". It may be aimed at tackling illegal car drivers, knife carrying teenagers, terrorist cells, drugs traffickers, pimps or people smugglers or it might just be to police some demo, strike or political bigwig touring the latest run down hell hole.
Anyway, if the purpose of the programme was to be informative it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. That our modern police force is corporatist, stuffed with fast-tracked graduate management coming up with new "strategies" to justify their existence, obsessed with technology and statistics.
One thing it did explain, though, is why it takes half a week for them to answer a 999 call.