We need to talk about the Police

So this is a bit of a long-winded rant that I hope to finesse over time, now that i’m actually articulating some pretty complex, and often contradictory, attitudes and beliefs.

Lots of things have happened not described here, and I may go into them, I may not….comments are always welcome.

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I am often making comment about my disappointment with what modern policing in my home state appears to have become. And with the recent trial by social media of (one of) the recent Mardi Gras incidents, more finger flapping on the topic from me was unavoidable.

For the record, I have a few complaints in general about what I see as problems with the police:

  • Training is either less effective, or some messages are not coming through clear enough for officers to understand, let alone implement. Either that or we’re being told fibs about what is real ‘standard operating procedures’ are.
  • Police are less friendly.
    Yeah, I’m sorry, but police are bearers of greater responsibility out and about. They should wave back to kids, not ignore them, nod and say hello (especially if you do) and not make jokes at your expense when you’re in vulnerable situations and requiring (or have no choice in) their intervention. Yes, these are all things I’ve seen (or not, for the former two) more than a couple of times.
  • More than a couple of folk I know who have applied for the force have been knocked back for doing too well on the written component. W-T-F. Or been told that as an excuse. They were easily some of the most ethical, fair individuals I’ve known. Hopefully a co-incidence.
  • Despite have an MOU with services such a Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) / Clean Needle Programs (CNPs), Homeless services and chemists that provide opiate maintenance treatment (OMT), patrol cars can often be seen waiting “around the corner”, pumping plates and hoping to recognise someone. Fishing for junkies. When asked about this, individual officers usually say business x, or member of public y “alerted us” to dubious excuse a, b, c. 
  • More on the targeting and fishing: laws such as anti-obscenity laws and jay-walking are being used to target homeless and indigenous people who are otherwise not doing anything wrong. I have no doubt he city council is in on this, in an effort to get undesirables out of the way. The stupidly hefty, rapidly escalating fines are probably encouraged all round.
  • Quotas. Traffic cops. One step away from entrapment, really.
  • Entrapment: last year I saw a car parked in my street with windows down and keys in door. I parked in my drive, walked back to get keys, wallet off the passenger seat. There was also what looked like a laptop case, but I felt it crossed a line to take that – it wsn’t neccessary to work out who this hastily abandoned stuf belonged to.
    The car’s windows were electric – I would’ve put them up if they were manuak. Turns out I was lucky I didn’t put that key in ignition. Again, something that felt like crossing a line in the situation.
    I take the keys, wallet and leave a note with my landline under the windshield.  I don’t have a mobile at this point in time. As I’m walking the 30-40 metres from the car to my house, I start to look in the wallet for ID. Before I get any further a car pulls up next to me and a hand lands on my shoulder: “You’re under arrest”.
    Was it possible? Were they really fishing for people who, given an easy bad decision placed on a platter, would take it?
    With three officers sitting, waiting, watching? Is this really modern policing?After the event, other people mentioned seeing the same car in the neighbourhood in a similar state. Unscientific, but this was clearly something they were doing in the inner-west for a while. The situation ended with my not being arrested, and berated for questioning the use of the public’s resources. And a bad taste in my mouth.This list could go on….

A lot of the above is anecdotal, and doesn’t look at the myriad of ways police help and assist the good people of Australia – I’m not saying they don’t, nor am I suggesting that we don’t need them. Not at all.

However, more and more, it seems that it’s not a force that appears to be working for the people. Even if you have committed a crime you are entitled to a degree of respect and professionalism from anyone doing a paid job. Especially one paid for out of the public purse.

It is the police’s job to intercept criminals and wrong-doers: subdue them, identify them and if needed hold onto them until the next step of the process can proceed. Police Officers need to be well trained, and need to understand that they are not allowed to hand out eye-for-an-eye justice. Indeed, they have no place handing out anything that might resemble ‘justice’.

The mark of a brilliant officer is to recognise the lout that slugged her one will be dealt with be a system they gate-keep, not one they control. In executing her duties and not retaliating, s/he shows this crim-bo exactly what respect looks like. Officers need to know the job is not fair, and they are not there to react with equal force to whatever may be handed to them. It’s probably one of the shittiest part of the jobs, and you can see a very human response in kneeing that loud-mouthed, disrespectful jerk in the back a bit harder than necessary. But they shouldn’t.

They are not Dredd. They are not The Law.

Respect is very much something you lose from me. I go into most interactions showing, and hoping, that those I am interacting with deserve my respect. Very rarely do I have to deviate from that attitude – especially in the flesh. On-line – not so much.

Police have slowly eroded that respect, with a few noteworthy officers actually helping to so reverse the tide on occasion. The day when my ex-scout leader, quite a senior officer in his district, retired was a sad day: reading between the lines of the reasons he left, there seemed to be some degree of validation of my concerns.

I suppose I want to be able to point people to this to assure them that my criticisms are by no means absolute, nor do I think police are not necessary. But I think there is something to be said for the attitudes and behaviours I’ve discussed, that appear to be common place with the officers i’ve dealt with. Either by indifference, inadequate training or institutionalised attitudes running amuck. Perhaps it’s because of bizarre cadet admission policies and criteria. Something I have no way to really confirm, and am still scratching my head over.

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