Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The thin hi-vis yellow line

The Telegraph wonders whether single beat patrols as re-introduced by the new Met chief is going to be enough to win back public support.

It is rare to see a bobby patrolling alone, yet it used to be unusual to see them on the beat together. It is heartening, then, to learn that London's new police chief, Sir Paul Stephenson, intends to require his officers to patrol as singletons except when it would be patently dangerous to do so. This would double police visibility and make officers more likely to communicate with members of the public instead of with each other.

To be honest, around my way it is rare to see a bobby who isn't in a patrol car. In the last fortnight I can only recall seeing one policewoman not in a car - and she was in a garage buying sweets while her colleague waited on the forecourt in a large Volvo estate with the engine running. We have PCSOs of course and they patrol in pairs as they swoop on the evil wrongdoers of Slough who dare to park adjacent to the cash point for two minutes.

The Telegraph also refers to something I feel strongly about.

There will be arguments, especially from the Police Federation, that the job is more dangerous than it once was; and in some inner-city estates this may well be true, though that owes much to the loss of authority that has come with changes to the way the police act and dress.

The way the police act and dress is vitally important. First off, the way they act towards the general public is often, at best patronising and at worst down right rude and aggressive. But the way they dress is my biggest issue. The purpose of the uniform was to establish authority without appearing threatening to the general public and the reason the police used to wear those strange pointy helmets was to make them visible. It worked - you could spot a policeman in a crowd a mile off and when you met him up close he came across as a reassuring authority figure.

Now they stroll around in peaked caps and wearing luminous hi-vis jerkins which give them all the authority of a motorway maintenance worker. Add on the stab vest and the jumble of equipment hanging around their waist and the first thing that strikes you when you come across a modern policeman is that they are all set for a spot of violence. If the police go around always looking as if they expect violence to erupt at any moment is it any wonder that the general public have a raised fear of crime?

Getting the police back on the streets, getting them back in proper uniforms and behaving properly towards the average citizen would all be good moves, but the single most important thing they could do is reacquaint themselves with the 9 principles of policing as laid down by Peel. They are as relevant today as they have always been.


Mark said...

Will these single beat patrols have Wpc's as well as pc's on the roster ?
Will single beat patrols on, say, the North Peckham estate at 2am ever be instituted ?
I think this will open up a can of worms; the other possibility is that Stephenson wants to start a campaign to arm the Met more widely, in which case this is cynicism on stilts !

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