Tea and Pizza
What I wasn't expecting, what I had no idea about, was that there are homes in Britain where it is advisable not to accept a cup of tea. And where you have to wipe your feet on the way out. As police officers will confirm, these homes are identifiable by the washing machine in the front garden and the huge plasma TV in the lounge. To a true young English lady like myself (well sort of), the idea that some people live without even the social grace of a sanitary cup of tea to offer a guest, was fairly shocking.
The point is, it's all very well the government/press/senior management (delete as applicable) going on and on about domestic/racist violence, measuring us on crime performance, hauling us over the coals every time we fail to prevent murder, accusing us of brutality and setting us a target of customer satisfaction. As long as they understand who our regular "customer" really is.
On Radio 4 today you can hear me visiting some regulars.* There's Mr Grahams, who thinks his ex-partner's new partner's ex-partner is sending him junk mail about pizzas. There's a guy defecating in the middle of the road. There's Unconscious Bloke and Blinking Female, whose families have started open warfare on a quiet Blandmore street. And there's the pink-headed stranger, who's tried to manhandle a six-year-old child into his car. Mixed in amongst them are the public: variously seen crossing the road to avoid defecation; demanding why the police took so long and came so unequipped to deal with warfare; frantic with concern for their son and baking brownies by the trayload. Which of these two groups do you imagine takes up more of our time?
The Mr Grahamses of this world will never be satisfied by commonsense approaches, full discretion, nor a robust if unsightly use of force. They will never write letters of thanks for our time or wonder whether they should deal with the issue of parking spaces and junk mail themselves. They will continue to feed off the state, seeing the police officer in their home as "their right", regardless of who else is waiting.
Everything the government does to improve policing, everything our senior managers pass down to us, caters for Mr Grahams and his self-serving, unremitting wastage of society's resources. And this comes down to the fundamental problem with treating the police like a customer service organisation: because if we are policing effectively, some of our customers will be, and should be, dissatisfied.
* In case you're wondering, no I don't have an accent like the woman in the Radio 4 drama. If you want to hear what I sound like, I appear on the radio from time to time. I can't tell you when/where, as that would make it too easy...
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.