There’s been a lot of criticism on a forum I frequent regarding the police forming ranks when they are criticised. This particular forum is rather right of centre, and follows the Cameron-led anti-police meme with some energy and a number of posters take great joy in criticising the police regarding corruption when they have no personal knowledge and are only following what’s written in the Tory-led media.
There’s a certain degree of substance in the accusation of self-defence. However, I think that goes for many, if not most, institutions, including private companies as they can indulge in the belief of, ‘If you attack them, you attack me as well.’ It does go a little deeper with regards to the police though, and I think there are a number of reasons for this.
One is that, from a position of general support, the centre and right wing press appear to have turned on the police, presumably in support of the likes of Cameron and May. Their, sometimes vitriolic, comments and attacks were quite a shock. There is a more significant reason though.
In my book, Both Sides of the Force, well reviewed on Kindle, I tell about a time when an Underground ticket inspector attacked a 17-year-old lad for no apparent reason, stabbing him a number of times and inflicting innumerable self-defence wounds on him. Actually, they weren’t innumerable as some poor medical person had not only to count them, but justify their conclusion.
I was with my Special Operations Unit colleagues when we attended the Barbican Underground Station after a call of, ‘man gone berserk’. The ticket inspector had indeed ‘gone berserk’ and was threatening to attack anyone who came near him, and to back up these threats he had a large knife.
I was the medical bod on my unit and I ran in to the station with our comprehensive first-aid kit to find the 17-year-old lad bleeding energetically from a nicked artery in his left arm, together with two wounds to his left chest, both of which punctured his lung. The lad was upset, and he was coughing up blood and as he did so blood spurted from a wound just below his left nipple and there was some spitting from a wound higher up.
Another PC, one Dave Cronin, and I rendered emergency first-aid on the lad, having to block up the two punctures and also stop the blood squirting from the nicked artery. With the assailant still armed with his bloody great knife, both Dave and I were reduced to concentrating on our first-aid role, and we had to ignore the threat.
This, on the face of it, might seem a bit brave and even more stupid, but we had been working with the other officers for some time and had grown to trust them implicitly. We were both, probably unconsciously, confident that the others would do their best to keep us safe and, if necessary, put themselves at risk to defend us. After all, it is what we would have done if the roles had been reversed.
Neither Dave or I gave it a thought. It’s what being a member of the team is all about: looking after one another when things get difficult.
It should be very clear as to why otherwise totally, and utterly, honest police officers might seem less than supportive when, for instance, one of the team was threatened with discipline after a complaint from a member of the public. This non team-member was having a go at someone who would put their life at risk to defend us.
In the case of dishonest behaviour, such as a theft, there would be no question of asking another team member to tell lies. Indeed, when I gave evidence in Crown Court which gave rise incidentally to a serious discipline procedure against another officer, he came up to me afterwards, shook my hand, and said no hard feelings. I believe him. Mind you, I had a go at him for involving me.
It can be a feeling of, ‘them and us’, and it is not without justification. I’ve found similar self-protective behaviour amongst those in the fire service, but to see it brought to perfection, you have to do interview a soldier about misconduct of one of his colleagues. That’s no criticism, at least from me, as they deal in life and death situations.
I was once disciplined for, in essence, being too quick with my gob. I won’t say whether I did actually say what the nasty person said I said, but when I said to the Inspector who served me with the discipline papers, ‘Such behaviour would be totally out of character, Sir.’ He started to laugh, and said, ‘That’s a good one.’
They interviewed, as part of the enquiry into the complaint, the prisoner that I was taking into the cellblock. This guy said that the incident did not happen, and whoever said it did must be confusing the officer who arrested him with another police officer. I didn’t ask him to lie, it was a lie, but I had dealt with him, despite him putting a nasty graze on my forehead and a nasty cut to my elbow, as well as damaging my police uniform, in exactly the same way as I would have dealt with him if he had been in for a theft.
It’s what most police officers would have done, but this guy had obviously heard all the stories and had been worried about receiving a beating, and was surprised, and no doubt grateful, that it didn’t happen. At court he was apologetic, and I could tell he meant it, so I dropped the charges of damage to police uniform. He was grateful, probably not understanding that the repairs do not come out of my pocket. Indeed, I got a nice new tunic and a couple of new shirts out of the incident.
So it seems as if it is normal behaviour to take a moral view of what one’s duty is when it comes to defending people against various accusations. This doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it honest. What it does to, though, is to ensure the camaraderie exists in such units and that the support of one another continues even when there is risk.