"When constabulary duty's to be done"
posted by k
There used to be jokes about police incompetence. Detective stories pitted the aristocratic seuth or thoughtful private investigator against the bumbling bobby. There was a lot of snobbery in this, including the old-fashioned snobbery that believed that income from fees - or, better still, income from inheritance or investment - was superior to income from regular wages.
Most of this snobbery is upper-class contempt for what the idle rich sometimes term "the lower orders". But it's true that payment of wages buys a certain measure of loyalty - and sometimes that loyalty can be misplaced. Before the snobs think this works in their favour, they have a similar loyalty to whoever pays their fees or the system that provides them with unearned income. Our need to eat and comfortable familiarity with a certain standard of living is likely to skew our view and interpretation of the world.
Nowadays we have more sympathy with the police, and considerable nostalgia for the "bobby on the beat". This has spilled over to the defence of the police in the wake of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. I've heard a range of spokesmen (they have all been men) defending the police in the wake of the recent verdict. "It was unjust," defenders of the police proclaim. "These were ordinary policemen doing their job. Policemen have to make split-second decisions. Sometimes they'll get it wrong."
But the verdict wasn't against any individual policemen. The verdict said that the Metropolitan Police as an organisation, failed to take sufficient note of Health and Safety procedures. The BBC lists 19 failures of organisation. These are to do with strategy and procedures - and are not a condemnation of the firearms officers who shot an unarmed Brazilian electrician seven times in the head.
For the sake of all travellers, these errors need to be addressed. They include a "noisy and chaotic control room", where officers couldn't hear or misheard the urgent information that was being passed to them by surveillance officers. They also include a four-hour delay in sending support to the surveillance team. These are procedural problems which cost a man's life.
Despite unfounded fears that Jean Charles de Menenez was a suicide bomber, no-one atttempted to stop him from boarding a bus or underground train. It's lucky the police officers weren't more trigger-happy. The train driver was chased down a tunnel by an armed officer and a policeman from the surveillance team (known only as "Ivor") had a gun pointed at his chest.
There are links to fuller coverage of the trial at the blog calm, almost too calm.
Meanwhile, I'm grateful to the judge and jury for their deliberations and careful judgment. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner denies "systematic failure". Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who I once admired, condemns the verdict as "disastrous." Cabinet Ministers are lining up in defence of the police and Commissioner. But the Met's refusal to accept the verdict or address its failings endangers us all.
've lived with awareness of terrorism since the I.R.A. attacks on the 1970s. I'm pretty tough about travelling around London - it's my home town. I can cope with the fear of terrorism. But just now I'm a little nervous of the police and their great big guns.