Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Episodes 2 & 3 of The Met: Cannon Fodder

The BBC's reality TV show about the Metropolitan Police Service seems refreshingly free of propaganda. Doubtless the Met provided abundant soundbites, but the producers mercilessly edited these out.

I've watched episodes 2 and 3, and here's what I think. Do let me know your thoughts too, if you wish, by writing a short comment.

Episode Two:

I worry that showing such detail of the murder investigation will give too much away to criminals planning violent attacks, however the programme showed that excellent police work is taking place.

Met detectives catch 9 out of 10 murderers. How good is that?

Many times I've heard people say “The police are useless” but we're good enough to fill the prisons so full that they are forced to release people early.

This sends out the right message to criminals – we are good, and we will catch them.

The sex attacker interview is good, accurately showing what we face during what seems like almost every interview these days: a guilty-looking person murmuring 'No comment' after every question. They say this because they know how the system works, and that they'll receive no greater punishment if they refuse to comply.

I know from experience that they can leave changing their plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty' until the very day of the trial and the court still won't impose a more penalty for wasting public time and money.

Even the professionalism of the Territorial Support Group has been shown on television, at long last! The TSG receives nothing but criticism from human rights groups, but they are cops doing hard and thankless work. It's the nature of their tasks that nobody will pat them on the back, or even see their work, but it's essential and dangerous.

The TSG seem fearless. Escorting a prisoner through the Notting Hill Carnival, they were faced by groups of gang members who wanted to fight through the officers to reach their captured comrade. But they stayed on track and dealt calmly with the situation.

Episode Three:

Again, there's good police work taking place, and we see that. Borough Commander Richard Tucker is shown as sincere and concerned, despite flak from despairing residents at a public meeting.

He pointed out that we can't pursue thieves on mopeds because we are accountable for the robber's safety. Victims don't want to hear that we have a duty of care towards the criminals – but this is the truth of the risk-averse Britain in which we live.

Unfortunately we didn't see whether Tucker expanded on this point, explaining that it's the culture around us and our legal framework, that forces us to be pink and fluffy. We can't deal with criminals as robustly as we would like. That point really needs to be made.

It's no use criticising the police. If you want change, you must lobby your MP and force a discussion at government level.

The residents didn't understand, and probably weren't told, that a borough commander has no power to influence the way policing is conducted. Even a borough commander is really only a leader of a team, not a policy-maker. Policing is micromanaged from the centre by New Scotland Yard – the likes of Mark Rowley and Sir Bernard.

Two years ago we had neighbourhood teams of five to eight officers. Under Sir Bernard's Local Policing Model, those teams were replaced by one constable and one community support officer. Those two officers are now busy writing newsletters, 'good news stories' for the local newspapers, and updating spreadsheets.

But even so, the BBC programme proves good police work is taking place.

Although the show appears to take a neutral stance, the writers still can't resist every now and again getting in a little dig at the police. For example, the narrator stated that Victor Olisa is 'one of only five black borough commanders.'

Well, there are 32 boroughs, therefore 15% of borough commanders are black. The 2011 census showed that 13.3% of London residents are black. So the Met's 15% is more than representative.

The Met has an online forum on its Intranet, where officers are invited to post their views. In general the comments from officers are negative. The greatest disgust seems to be around Sir Bernard saying, or implying, that officers are racist.

I find it regrettable that the programme gives the impression that response policing is constantly exciting – that every day you're locking people up or trying to resuscitate stab victims. I spent many years working on a response team, and the excitement was infrequent at best.

I'm guessing the film crew has taken two hundred hours of film, from which they've distilled the most thrilling incidents to piece together a one hour programme.

I mean no criticism of the two PCs, Tim and Steph, but this footage of them seems to suggest that policing is all light-hearted chat and laughs.

That simply isn't representative. Coppers are culturally preoccupied with putting the world to rights and discussing how 'The job's fucked' – a stock phrase we use.

It's part of police culture that we spend half our time complaining, and the BBC documentary-makers have clearly chosen their footage carefully to avoid this, instead showing the carefree Tim and Steph cheerfully discussing their dietary habits.

There's no mention of the fact that neither of them have probably had a decent nights sleep for five years. Nor that they never know if/when they will leave work. Nor that their hours and and days are constantly changed at short notice – which happens because the law allows it...because we aren't employees and aren't protected by employment law.

I'm around police officers all the time – I am one – and we never stop talking about the venality of managers, and how the job is in the doldrums. We talk about how the bosses design the inane practices we have to follow, as if they're running some sort of video game, up in their remote Scotland Yard ivory tower. That's the conversation that takes place inside police cars.

Because of it's unrealistically rosy tint, this series is likely to improve recruitment. This is unfortunate because the senior officers can continue to ignore our welfare and careers as long as the cannon fodder keeps coming – the endless queue of willing twenty-somethings, desperate to apply...

“As long as I can remember I always wanted to be a police officer. I can't wait to put on my uniform. Look how shiny my shoes are!”

Senior manager are apparently too busy working on public relations, as we saw in episode one. And what a great job they make of that.

The programme doesn't show the hours we spend each day duplicating paperwork, ticking boxes and adding to spreadsheets. It doesn't show us standing on cordons for hours. It doesn't show our health suffering from the hours we work, or the aggression the organisation expresses towards us.

The cannon fodder won't want to see that, of course. Give those young people a few years however, and they'll be looking for an 'out', like the rest of us.

In general I approve of this television series. The overt propaganda, that the senior management doubtless provided, has been left on the cutting room floor, and we see something of the dichotomy between, on the one hand – the nonsensical and enormously time-wasting system under which we struggle, and, on the other hand – the activity of day-to-day policing, where officers are doing great work.

Two very different things.

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- Justice and Chaos