Fri, 31 Aug 2018
In the week when a video of police officers being assaulted while arresting a suspect in London has hit the headlines our Operational Policing lead Simon Kempton discusses why being a hero or a villain is all a matter of perception.
You can’t please all of the people all of the time – someone wiser than me once said that. And it has never been more true. Especially when it comes to policing.
One minute the press are lauding officers as heroes – for selflessly running towards danger as we saw recently when a car hit the barriers outside the Houses of Parliament; the following day’s papers full of plaudits and praise.
But just a week later some of the same news outlets were using sensationalist and inflammatory headlines when a video of two officers detaining a violent and aggressive 14 year old using reasonable and justifiable force was published on social media.
It seems though those who were looking for outrage and a media storm had misjudged the mood. Rather than vilifying the officers who were clearly dealing with a challenging and potentially dangerous situation – the responses to the “story” were almost entirely supportive and included a statement by the officers’ own Chief Constable - heartening to see.
We live in a digital age and nearly everyone now carries a phone capable of recording and uploading footage to the internet in a few seconds.
We as a service know how impactful moving images of incidents can be and that they can provide crucial evidence. It’s one of the reasons we as a Federation are fighting to ensure that all police officers have access to body-worn video.
These cameras provide protection for officers, and a deterrent for those who may previously have sought to harm or make malicious allegations.
They also allow magistrates, judges and juries to experience the reality of how the suspect behaved at the time of the incident, often far removed from the smartly dressed, calm individual standing in the dock before them.
But police footage is governed by strict evidence rules. Unfortunately those who choose to post videos online are not. Clips can be edited in a way to suit one particular viewpoint or agenda, and the result can go viral in minutes.
It saddens me that increasingly it seems that if members of the public witness an interaction between the police and a suspect their initial reaction is to reach for their phones and start filming.
But just as this makes me question my faith in my fellow humans there are still times when that faith is restored.
The small acts of kindness or appreciation that remind me that for every one person intent on deriding or defaming police officers there are many more who silently or subtlety support us.
For example – a kind note and a prepaid card covering the cost of two coffees left on the bonnet of a police car, the simple thank you tweet featuring a candid snap taken of exhausted officers waiting to be collected after working at the Notting Hill Carnival, or a spontaneous round of applause given by the residents of a street when a prolific burglar was caught hiding in a garden.
Being a police officer is a rollercoaster of a job. It can range from the mundane to the bizarre. And we certainly don’t do it for praise or adulation.
We see the worse of humanity but sometime we also get to see the very best. And most of it is never ever captured on film.
For more stories of the exceptional work police officers do every day please visit believeinblue.org.uk.
© 2018 Police Federation of England & Wales