The Police Arbitration Tribunal has now concluded and we await the decision of the arbiters and the ratification of the Home Secretary. It is a tense time for officers and one that brings back some bad memories of previous altercations with the Home Office; but we will continue to trust that sanity will prevail. For it seems to have taken a leave of absence elsewhere with the recent court ruling holding up an appeal against a conviction of using threatening and abusive language towards police officers.
While it is not my place to get embroiled in the particularities of a specific case, the ruling does set a worrying precedent. While I accept that we have to be thick-skinned in our work, and would never expect or want to arrest every person that swore at us in the line of duty (or quite frankly have the time to do so), I will never accept that officers should just be expected to get over it and that it's all par for the course.
It is unfortunately true that swearing is pretty commonplace in everyday language and many of us are guilty of using it all too frequently. However, to let this argument get bogged down in the semantics of which particular words were used would be to miss the point. Police officers are experienced enough and competent enough to know the difference between some expletives exchanged in the heat of the moment and genuine abuse.
Fundamentally this comes down to a matter of respect. Respect or a lack thereof in this case, has a major role to play in the everyday work of a police officer. The old adage exists for a reason - the public are the police and the police are the public - and that simply will not work if respect is lost for the uniform and the people wearing it. Equally tied into this is the necessity to give warranted officers the backing, be it political or legal, to use their discretion and get on with their job.
There are many systems in place to ensure officers are accountable for the arresting decisions they make, the right to appeal is a vital part of that - but I do question the road this ruling sets us upon. Following the unrest of this summer, many accusations were made in respect of the police response to the disturbances. Much analysis has already taken place into the cause of the violence. A key theme in this study has been questions over the perceived toughness and respect for the police. Seeing police stand back was often interpreted as unwillingness or inability to intervene - Justice Bean's ruling surely will only reinforce this notion?
I have often spoken of how the officers who I represent are "damned if they do and damned if they don't". This has been clearly demonstrated in recent months. The police were criticised for not acting fast enough or with adequate force during August - a poll of the public at the time called for water cannons and rubber bullets. Then at the successfully policed student marches earlier this month officers were severely criticised for heavy handedness and the very mention of rubber bullets. We often don't know where we stand in the public eye. We just get on with the day to day business of the job.
Thus I welcome Bernard Hogan-Howe's mutual recognition of the disappointing course this ruling could set us upon and I welcome his robust backing for officers to continue upholding the law with the dignity that befits the uniform. Regrettably, last weekend reminded us that officers often put their lives on the line in their work - the last thing they need is the petty consideration of what constitutes a swearword.
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