This is not a regular blog-post, it is the response to a comment on this blog. I don’t intend to do this very often, so please bear with me; normally scheduled programming will continue next week!
Recently, somebody misguidedly left a comment on my “Kind Words” page, with something that was anything but kind words. I deleted the comment, not because of any conspiracy, but because it was posted to the wrong place.
However, because it was such a deep, heartfelt, well-reasoned and insightful comment, I wanted to reproduce it here, front and centre, for everybody to see, because it eloquently explains a rarely-discussed challenge police constables face…
Comment by mr. Ian M
Just read your guest ‘column’ on Telegraph website. [link added -ed] Clearly I’m in the minority of (published) comments, but I find it staggering…and not in a good way. You have written about how you approach and attack an innocent man. Then, along with several strong-armed colleagues, you drag him to the ground, restraining him while cuffing him and then you perform a fruitless search of him. How noble of you. Well done.
I’m not sure if your constant references to ‘Hakeem”s swearing is merely your thinly veiled attempt to portray him as the lout, the yob, the subversive, the villain -or if it’s your way of portraying yourself (and your likeminded chums) as some sort of White Knights in Shining Armour? There is nothing Hakeem could ever say – if he spent the rest of his life with a pen and paper crafting the words with all the Gutter Press venom he could muster – that could be more offensive than your portrayal of him, your treatment of him and, of course, your utterly patronising retelling of his apprehension. And it’s not just patronising to Hakeem…it’s patronising to anyone who reads it (particularly the ones who are too ignorant to realise). However, what I find infinitely more frightening are the pathetic middle-class back slaps you’re receiving from the misguided readers of your tripe. Please, don’t mistake these adulations as affirmation that you’re doing a good ‘job’. You’re simply making them feel better about the fact that their prejudices are exactly the same as yours.
Your ‘column’ does nothing to dispel the notion that English police forces are inherently racist, despite what vomit Cressida Dick might spew on the lunchtime news. “We’ve moved on…we’ve fixed things…we’re nice to black people now…all’s well…return to your sofas and turn up the volume on Dancing on Ice. Thank you…”
Remind me…the spark that lit the summer riots was what? Sorry…can’t hear you? Oh yes…the police murdered an unarmed black man, then steadfastly refused to help his family understand why. Reminds me of someone else…one Stephen Lawrence. Fortunately, for us all, Stephen’s parents refused to sit down and “shut up” – something you were only too glad Hakeem did. Mark Duggan’s family have also acted with dignity and humility in the face of the Met Police’s Institutional Silence. Hopefully, they will find answers to their questions quicker than Neville and Doreen Lawrence. What kind of country demands that the parents of a young murder victim spend the next 18 years of their lives fighting for justice for their son? Well, justice of sorts.
Your country Matt. And I’ve no doubt you’re proud of it.
As for your hopeless sign off: “Hakeem is right, it isn’t fair – but I’ll be damned if I can think of a way to make it better.” – how convenient for you. How long have you been thinking of ways to make it better? Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes? Here’s an idea. It’s radical, though, so strap yourself in. How about you get a little bit of tact, a touch of diplomacy, a big helping of intelligence, a sprinkling of humanity and a dollop of humility. Then, the next time you’re about to rugby tackle an innocent man on a housing estate, you might, instead, be able to treat him as if he was a human being, with rights, and morals, and a family, and friends, and loved ones, and a life. You never know, he might even turn out to be innocent. Sorry…I know…it’s ‘out there’, innit!?I
Of course, one day you might come up against someone brandishing a knife, or a gun (or a placard)…and when you do, you’ll have a much better understanding of why they’re carrying it, what they might do with it and how you might alleviate any risk to them, you or the rest of us. That’s the challenge facing policing today…how to deal with potential criminals without referring to their skintone.
To finish, may I just remind you of my utter distaste for you, your ‘blag’ and your sheep followers.
White male wearing hoodie without a knife in my pocket. Not that it would matter if I had…you’re not about to stop and search me.
I was going to let this stand unchallenged, but as I’m re-reading it now, it’s making my blood boil. I realise this is probably just an internet troll from someone who doesn’t know any better, but nonetheless…
You have written about how you approach […]
Correct. We approached him. That’s our job – to act on the information we have available to us.
[…] and attack […]
[…] an innocent man […]
Correct, he turned out to be innocent. And that was why he wasn’t arrested.
[…] along with several strong-armed colleagues […]
There’s a funny thing about fighting, that not a lot of people are aware of: People are much more likely to get injured in an one-on-one fight. If you stop to think, it’s relatively common sense:
The risks of facing a violent criminal on your own
Well, if I am facing a person who is apparently hostile, in a situation where I am one-on-one with them, and it looks like a confrontation will be imminent, I cannot afford to take any risks. There are a lot of unknowns. The person I am fighting might never have been in a fight before, or he might be a black-belt in Karate. He might intend to fight ‘fair’, or he might have a knife or knuckledusters hidden somewhere on his person. His judgement might be impaired by drugs or alcohol. He might just be posturing, but he might also have a deep-felt hatred for police, and a desire to do some real damage.In general, when I am facing an opponent like that, I weigh my options. If I have no other options (such as running away or calling for backup), I have to strike to incapacitate, because fights are by their very nature deeply unpredictable. I could be a fit, healthy police officer in full personal protective kit, but the person I am trying to defend myself from could conceivably get in a lucky strike, and the confrontation would be over.
The problem is that in a violent, physical confrontation, is that the outcomes intended by my assailant and myself could very well be out of sync. Put differently: I know that when I have ‘won’ a confrontation, I will stop, make my arrest, and the episode would be over. My opponent might not afford me the same courtesy, which means that when we reach the point where I would have considered the confrontation ‘over’, they might decide to produce a knife and stab me, or keep kicking me until I stop moving.
Or, by applying some game theory to this:
- If I ‘win’ a confrontation, I potentially ‘win’ an arrest, at the cost of my opponent’s freedom and any injuries we both incur during our altercation.
- If I ‘lose’ a confrontation, my opponent ‘wins’ his freedom, and I am at risk of losing my life, or being seriously injured.
If you were to model this asynchronous approach according to game theory, you’d come up with only one sensible conclusion: Because we don’t play by the same rules, as a police officer, you have a lot to lose but little to gain from entering into a confrontation. As a criminal, you have a lot to win from entering into a violent confrontation.
With that conclusion at the back of our minds, let’s return to the commenter’s issue with me using ‘several strong-armed colleagues’ in this particular situation
Nobody in their right mind would go into a fight mano a mano if they have weapons available to them; as a police officer, I carry a full set of Personal Protection Equipment, including CS spray and a baton. For various reasons, the CS spray is rarely a good option for me (it affects me very strongly, and there is a 10% chance it won’t affect my assailant; the odds don’t stack up), so I will draw my baton, and use it if required. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this fight is going to end in injuries, and because weapons are involved, the injuries can be serious.
In the case of this particular anecdote, I had to assume that the young man had a knife, because assuming he didn’t have one would put me and my colleagues at undue risk. If I were on my own, I probably would not have confronted him; I have a family to go home to at the end of the day, and I don’t particularly fancy meeting the business end of his stainless steel blade. If I were threatened by him, and I were on my own, my first tactical option would be to move away, but I would also draw and rack my baton. If necessary to defend myself, I would use it.
Taking down a suspect using more than one officer is safer – both for the suspect and for us.
So, if you have an issue with me using my colleagues, here’s the counter-argument: With several people there, we were able to resolve the situation without drawing any weapons, without even threatening the use of weapons, and without having to use violent means to subdue him. We simply
you drag him to the ground, restraining him while cuffing him and then you perform a fruitless search of him.
I’m not sure if your constant references to ‘Hakeem”s swearing is merely your thinly veiled attempt to portray him as the lout, the yob, the subversive, the villain -or if it’s your way of portraying yourself (and your likeminded chums) as some sort of White Knights in Shining Armour?
[…] How long have you been thinking of ways to make it better? Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes? Here’s an idea. It’s radical, though, so strap yourself in. How about you get a little bit of tact, a touch of diplomacy, a big helping of intelligence, a sprinkling of humanity and a dollop of humility.