Monday, 5 September 2011

Police to commute in uniform

The Policy Exchange "think tank" has come up with the whizzy idea that police officers should commute to and from work in uniform. Apparently in London alone at least 2,000 officers are in mid-commute at peak times and they would provide more visible reassurance to the public and deterrence to wrong-doers if they travelled in uniform.

But even if we over-look the fact that people commuting are on their own time so can't sensibly be told how to dress, do we really want the consequences that wearing a uniform in personal time entails?

An officer leaves work; he's had a hard day, decides to have a pint in the local pub. Now you've an officer drinking in uniform. Decides he'll have a cigarette so pops outside. Now you've got an officer in uniform out in the street drinking and smoking. A friend calls him. Now he's outside drinking, smoking, and having an obviously personal call on his phone. A load of colleagues turn up; they also have a pint and smoke and raucous conversation ensues. Meanwhile the public walks past muttering disapprovingly at this gang of uniformed officers letting their hair down.

One of the officers decides he's a bit hot and opens his jacket and takes his tie off. Now he's in uniform but not in uniform. Is that even allowed?

The first officer finishes his pint then has a couple more. Fair to say he's a bit tipsy now. He decides he's had enough and walks off home. He's not breaking the law. Being drunk is not illegal. Drunk and Disorderly is, but not just drunk. He's fully entitled to be drunk in his own time.

While walking home a street crime happens. Our man is still in uniform. Everyone in the street is looking at him; he must intervene. He grabs the hoodlum who has just run out of an off-license without paying for a bottle of cider. It's a local homeless man. Now what's our officer to do? No handcuffs; no Airwave radio; no way to call for a van or for assistance. His mobile? Oops battery's dead! "Someone call 999," he shouts to the world at large.

Now the hoodlum is beginning to realise this arrest isn't going like all previous arrests. This officer doesn't have kit, or colleagues. The hoodlum pulls out a knife. Where is our officer's stab-proof vest? Back in his locker at the station is the answer; along with his CS gas spray, his ASP, and his cuffs. The cuffs he could take home with him, possibly the ASP (truncheon) as well. The gas, no, must be kept in a locked box when not in use.

How does this story end? However you like. Maybe the officer subdues the criminal without taking an injury. But then it goes to court. In the witness box the officer is obliged to admit he'd had quite a bit to drink when he made the arrest. The defence brief suggests that maybe his judgement was impaired at the time. He's forced to admit it could have been.

Or maybe he does get stabbed and the hoodlum runs off. Hopefully there are members of the public around to call for help, because the station doesn't know there's an officer down; they won't even begin to miss him until the start of his next shift.

This blogger reckons that police commuting in uniform is a can of worms best left closed.

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