Many years ago, in another life, I nervously sat half way down a long table at about ten minutes to ten on a Friday night. Around the table were about fifteen or sixteen Bobbies, two Sergeants and an Inspector.
A St Helens night shift parade, full of experience, intelligence, discipline and me, brand new out of the box straight from training school. Shiny boots and pressed shirt praying to god I didn’t make a fool of myself.
I sipped my tea (“we don’t have any sugar”) was given my nickname (not telling you) and followed my tutor Constable like a collie follows a shepherd.
Later that night I attended my first “B and E now ir ir” (Breaking and Entering Now, instant response, instant response). I can still remember watching the reflection of the blue lights as we passed darkened shop windows, my heart racing almost as fast as the car
“Stick close by, unless you see anyone running, if you see anyone running, run after them... okay?”
“Just watch everyone, do as they say, okay?”
“You alright?”
“Yeah! This is what I joined for!”
We arrived at a shuttered row of shops, a couple of other patrols where already there, the two Bobbies at the front stared up at the building, willing it to blink.
“Who’s round the back?”
“Jimmy and Bob”
“Come on”
We ducked down the adjacent alley (“watch out for dog s**t”), in one of the yards I could hear hushed voices as unseen hands flicked torches inquiringly across upstairs windows. As I entered the yard I could see a backdoor, its bottom panel kicked through like a missing tooth.
Bob stood waiting at the door,
“Jimmy is inside; do you want to go in?”
I got on all fours and crawled through
“Make sure Jimmy doesn’t hit you over the head by mistake”
The sound of chuckling followed me in, I shone my torch around and tried to figure out why anyone would want to burgle a butchers shop, I could see lights along a short corridor, Jimmy stood by another broken door, he was glancing up the stairs waiting for someone to mind this possible escape route.
“Stay here, I’m going upstairs”
I did as I was told watching him go, he shouted warnings as he went, skirting the wall and craning his neck to see around the landing. Then I heard a sound that made me physically jump into the air.
The burglar alarm.
At the time I didn’t appreciate the significance of arriving before the alarm sounded. It was only a few years later when I noticed that we no longer beat silent alarms, when I say we... by then it was just me. And maybe one other Bobby, who had rushed out of refs to back me up, half eaten sandwiches sitting in an empty canteen waiting for the morning cleaner to tut and throw in the bin.
The days of twenty Coppers bantering around a table had long gone, one night I recall parading with four other Bobbies, an acting Sergeant and the night inspector sitting in an office six miles away battling a mountain of paperwork. On average it was seven or so, paperwork juggling stressed colleagues, moaning about how little sleep we’d had.
That thin blue line was patrolling an area that covered St Helens, Billinge, Rainford, Eccleston, Rainhill, Newton Le Willows and all stops in between.
“Just do your best, and keep an ear out for each other”
Was all the Acting sergeant could say.
I spent longer apologising for being hours late than I did fighting crime. It’s difficult to reassure the public when you are dashing out of their front door to back up a colleague,
“Try not to touch anything, I’ll be back soon!”
When working day shifts it was a struggle not to wander through a bustling Police station, offices full of intelligence analysts, statisticians, resource managers and equipment officers shaking your head.
I remember chatting to one colleague over lunch. He was injured and due for retirement; he’d been posted to the “Crime Stats Co-ordination” office to recuperate.
“There are almost as many in there than you paraded on nights last week”
He said, somewhat embarrassed, as he nursed his coffee.
I never worked in that office, I’m sure it did an important job, as did the many other deskbound roles in that station and beyond.
What price crime prevention and youth intervention? I’m sure everyone who arrived on a Monday morning at nine o clock could justify their wheelie chair and draws full of marker pens and staplers.
This weeks news of the recruitment freeze probably didn’t cause many ripples to the men and women who turned out on nights and afternoons this weekend.
The potential loss of 240 officers through natural wastage wouldn’t impact on the Bobby calming down a domestic or searching an empty factory. And the neighbourhood officer facing twenty youths on their own probably isn’t worrying too much about budget deficits and estate management costs either.
The “job” has changed; it is constantly changing, civilian managers, hire cars that sit in car parks for days at a time, statistics (and damned lies), diversity, scrutiny and much more now contribute to the war on crime.
But if I was getting my head kicked in on a dark street I wouldn’t want to hear that my crime would be recorded in a manner that reflected what had taken place and that its later analysis would enable management to utilize resources in a more appropriate fashion in future.
I’d just want to hear sirens.