Sunday, 12 August 2007

Police Have It Taped

Everyone likes to see the forces of oppression getting a taste of their own medicine, and the Daily Mail's article, "Foul-mouthed traffic police caught on their own speed camera" seemed to offer plenty of scope for some Keystone Cops style mirth.

And, indeed, the article left me frothing with indignant rage - but, I suspect, not quite as the journalist intended. The gist of this piece is that a couple of bobbies were dumb enough to record themselves making "inappropriate" comments about members of the public as they drove around looking for traffic offenders.

It seems that, prior to feeling motorist James Chinn's collar for speeding, PCs Robert Topliss and Adrian Wootton had been engaged in putting the world to rights in a more prosaic manner. Their idle chitchat about their "lazy" bosses, their desire for promotion and what they'd like to get up to with the pretty girl they'd just driven passed was interrupted when Mr Chinn allegedly overtook their unmarked police car at some speed, which led to his arrest.

At his appeal hearing, the officers' conversation formed part of the tape recording presented in evidence. Mr Chinn's appeal was successful, and the bobbies in question now face disciplinary action.

WHY? What, exactly, have they done that warrants even a stern talking to, let alone an inquiry? As far as I can tell from the Mail's article, their discussions happened before they encountered Mr Chinn, and I can't see how it could have had any impact upon his arrest whatsoever.

At that time, the officers' job was to drive around in an unmarked police car, looking for speeding motorists. Now, I'd be the first to suggest that that's underhand behaviour, typical of modern policing, and it's a shame they don't put so much effort into catching proper criminals. But that's not the point. They were doing the job they'd been assigned to - i.e. driving around - and, until they located some poor sod in a hurry, they had nothing else to do.

Are they supposed to drive around in silence, fingers on lips (except for the driver, of course!). Perhaps they're expected to recite the Road Traffic Act over and over until they're word perfect? Polish their truncheons?

Come on, get real. This is two blokes, who just happen to be bobbies, doing what blokes everywhere do when they're driving around. And it's not just the blokes, either. I challenge you to sit by a road and watch the behaviour of drivers for half an hour. Specifically, target vehicles with a driver and one passenger in the front. You will notice that, where you have two guys in the car, they're both talking, but both looking forward at the road. Where you have two birds in the car, they still talking, but in most cases they're looking at each other, with the driver's head ratcheting back and forth between her passenger and the road.

Now, what do you think they're talking about? What do YOU talk about in the car? Life, the Universe and Everything, that's what. What they had for their tea last night, what our Shirl said about aunty Joan at Keith's wedding, what their dumb-ass boss has done now, isn't that guy / girl / other CUTE...

To expect anyone - particularly police officers - to behave differently is unfair and unrealistic. Coppers are human too (well, sometimes) and the more human they are, the better they are at their job - which, after all, requires them to deal with ordinary people all day, every day. The worst you can say about Topliss and Wootton is that they were careless in allowing their perfectly normal conversation to find its way onto an official recording.

But I bet most people have done something - and probably several somethings - at least as dumb in the past week, and they will do something equally dumb next week, and the week after. If you've ever sent a sensitive email to the wrong person, accidentally forgotten to mute a phone call while you curse the caller or even locked yourself out of your car or home you know these things happen.

It's a very depressing sign of the times that something like this can lead to an inquiry, and could potentially damage the careers of these two assiduously motorist-trapping coppers. Yes, there's a lot wrong with the way this country is policed, much of which should be the subject of detailed investigation, but two bobbies eyeing up a pretty girl is not on the list.

Billy Seggars.

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