However, because it was such a deep, heartfelt, well-reasoned and insightful comment, I wanted to reproduce it here, front and centre, for everybody to see, because it eloquently explains a rarely-discussed challenge police constables face…
Just read your guest â€˜columnâ€™ on Telegraph website. [link added -ed] Clearly Iâ€™m in the minority of (published) comments, but I find it staggeringâ€¦and not in a good way. You have written about how you approach and attack an innocent man. Then, along with several strong-armed colleagues, you drag him to the ground, restraining him while cuffing him and then you perform a fruitless search of him. How noble of you. Well done.
Iâ€™m not sure if your constant references to â€˜Hakeemâ€s swearing is merely your thinly veiled attempt to portray him as the lout, the yob, the subversive, the villain -or if itâ€™s your way of portraying yourself (and your likeminded chums) as some sort of White Knights in Shining Armour? There is nothing Hakeem could ever say â€“ if he spent the rest of his life with a pen and paper crafting the words with all the Gutter Press venom he could muster â€“ that could be more offensive than your portrayal of him, your treatment of him and, of course, your utterly patronising retelling of his apprehension. And itâ€™s not just patronising to Hakeemâ€¦itâ€™s patronising to anyone who reads it (particularly the ones who are too ignorant to realise). However, what I find infinitely more frightening are the pathetic middle-class back slaps youâ€™re receiving from the misguided readers of your tripe. Please, donâ€™t mistake these adulations as affirmation that youâ€™re doing a good â€˜jobâ€™. Youâ€™re simply making them feel better about the fact that their prejudices are exactly the same as yours.
Your â€˜columnâ€™ does nothing to dispel the notion that English police forces are inherently racist, despite what vomit Cressida Dick might spew on the lunchtime news. â€œWeâ€™ve moved onâ€¦weâ€™ve fixed thingsâ€¦weâ€™re nice to black people nowâ€¦allâ€™s wellâ€¦return to your sofas and turn up the volume on Dancing on Ice. Thank youâ€¦â€
Remind meâ€¦the spark that lit the summer riots was what? Sorryâ€¦canâ€™t hear you? Oh yesâ€¦the police murdered an unarmed black man, then steadfastly refused to help his family understand why. Reminds me of someone elseâ€¦one Stephen Lawrence. Fortunately, for us all, Stephenâ€™s parents refused to sit down and â€œshut upâ€ â€“ something you were only too glad Hakeem did. Mark Dugganâ€™s family have also acted with dignity and humility in the face of the Met Policeâ€™s Institutional Silence. Hopefully, they will find answers to their questions quicker than Neville and Doreen Lawrence. What kind of country demands that the parents of a young murder victim spend the next 18 years of their lives fighting for justice for their son? Well, justice of sorts.
Your country Matt. And Iâ€™ve no doubt youâ€™re proud of it.
As for your hopeless sign off: â€œHakeem is right, it isnâ€™t fair â€“ but Iâ€™ll be damned if I can think of a way to make it better.â€ â€“ how convenient for you. How long have you been thinking of ways to make it better? Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes? Hereâ€™s an idea. Itâ€™s radical, though, so strap yourself in. How about you get a little bit of tact, a touch of diplomacy, a big helping of intelligence, a sprinkling of humanity and a dollop of humility. Then, the next time youâ€™re about to rugby tackle an innocent man on a housing estate, you might, instead, be able to treat him as if he was a human being, with rights, and morals, and a family, and friends, and loved ones, and a life. You never know, he might even turn out to be innocent. Sorryâ€¦I knowâ€¦itâ€™s â€˜out thereâ€™, innit!?I
Of course, one day you might come up against someone brandishing a knife, or a gun (or a placard)â€¦and when you do, youâ€™ll have a much better understanding of why theyâ€™re carrying it, what they might do with it and how you might alleviate any risk to them, you or the rest of us. Thatâ€™s the challenge facing policing todayâ€¦how to deal with potential criminals without referring to their skintone.
To finish, may I just remind you of my utter distaste for you, your â€˜blagâ€™ and your sheep followers.
White male wearing hoodie without a knife in my pocket. Not that it would matter if I hadâ€¦youâ€™re not about to stop and search me.
I was going to let this stand unchallenged, but as I’m re-reading it now, it’s making my blood boil. I realise this is probably just an internet troll from someone who doesn’t know any better, but nonetheless…
You have written about how you approach [...]Â
Correct. We approached him. That’s our job – to act on the information we have available to us.
[...] and attack [...]
I can see where you are coming from with this, but it saddens me to say that you are incorrect. He was unharmed after we laid hands on him, and I am perfectly, 100% happy to stand up in court and swear that my actions were proportionate (i.e. our amount of use of force was reasonable, given the threat we had assessed), legal (s117 of the Polcie and Criminal Evidence Act and common law self defence) , accountable (I can – and have – explain exactly why he was detained for a search, and am happy to defend my actions), and necessary. (As far as we knew, this gentleman had a knife. According to the information we were given, he didn’t just have a knife, he had just left the scene of a knife fight, which would indicate that he would be unscrupulous about usingsaid knife.)
The bolded words above (Proportionate, Legal, Accountable and Necessary)
are crucial in the discussion of any use of force – whether it is by police, governments, or even your local ambulance service – and will be familiar if you’ve done much reading about powers of government, human rights, or IHL
[...] an innocent man [...]
Correct, he turned out to be innocent. And that was why he wasn’t arrested.
[...] along with several strong-armed colleagues [...]
There’s a funny thing about fighting, that not a lot of people are aware of: People are much more likely to get injured in an one-on-one fight. If you stop to think, it’s relatively common sense:
The risks of facing a violent criminal on your own
Well, if I am facing a person who is apparently hostile, in a situation where I am one-on-one with them, and it looks like a confrontation will be imminent, I cannot afford to take any risks. There are a lot of unknowns. The person I am fighting might never have been in a fight before, or he might be a black-belt in Karate. He might intend to fight ‘fair’, or he might have a knife or knuckledusters hidden somewhere on his person. His judgement might be impaired by drugs or alcohol. He might just be posturing, but he might also have a deep-felt hatred for police, and a desire to do some real damage.In general, when I am facing an opponent like that, I weigh my options. If I have no other options (such as running away or calling for backup), I have to strike to incapacitate, because fights are by their very nature deeply unpredictable. I could be a fit, healthy police officer in full personal protective kit, but the person I am trying to defend myself from could conceivably get in a lucky strike, and the confrontation would be over.
The problem is that in a violent, physical confrontation, is that the outcomes intended by my assailant and myself could very well be out of sync. Put differently: I know that when I have ‘won’ a confrontation, I will stop, make my arrest, and the episode would be over. My opponent might not afford me the same courtesy, which means that when we reach the point where I would have considered the confrontation ‘over’, they might decide to produce a knife and stab me, or keep kicking me until I stop moving.
Or, by applying some game theory to this:
- If I ‘win’ a confrontation, I potentially ‘win’ an arrest, at the cost of my opponent’s freedom and any injuries we both incur during our altercation.
- If I ‘lose’ a confrontation, my opponent ‘wins’ his freedom, and I am at risk of losing my life, or being seriously injured.
If you were to model this asynchronous approach according to game theory, you’d come up with only one sensible conclusion: Because we don’t play by the same rules, as a police officer, you have a lot to lose but little to gain from entering into a confrontation. As a criminal, you have a lot to win from entering into a violent confrontation.
With that conclusion at the back of our minds, let’s return to the commenter’s issue with me using ‘several strong-armed colleagues’ in this particular situation
Nobody in their right mind would go into a fight mano a mano if they have weapons available to them; as a police officer, I carry a full set of Personal Protection Equipment, including CS spray and a baton. For various reasons, the CS spray is rarely a good option for me (it affects me very strongly, and there is a 10% chance it won’t affect my assailant; the odds don’t stack up), so I will draw my baton, and use it if required. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this fight is going to end in injuries, and because weapons are involved, the injuries can be serious.
In the case of this particular anecdote, I had to assume that the young man had a knife, because assuming he didn’t have one would put me and my colleagues at undue risk. If I were on my own, I probably would not have confronted him; I have a family to go home to at the end of the day, and I don’t particularly fancy meeting the business end of his stainless steel blade. If I were threatened by him, and I were on my own, my first tactical option would be to move away, but I would also draw and rack my baton. If necessary to defend myself, I would use it.
Taking down a suspect using more than one officer is safer – both for the suspect and for us.
So, if you have an issue with me using my colleagues, here’s the counter-argument: With several people there, we were able to resolve the situation without drawing any weapons, without even threatening the use of weapons, and without having to useÂ violent means to subdue him. We simply
you drag him to the ground, restraining him while cuffing him and then you perform a fruitless search of him.
He was dragged to the ground because it’s the safest place for him to be – both for his safety (putting him out of reach of our vital parts means we don’t have to defend outselves viciously if it does turn out he had a knife) and for ours (it’s easier to keep control of a suspect if you have full overview). He was restrained because he was an unknown entity, who was extremely agitated, and was believed to have a knife.
The fruitless search was, indeed, fruitless. That is why he wasn’t arrested.
Iâ€™m not sure if your constant references to â€˜Hakeemâ€s swearing is merely your thinly veiled attempt to portray him as the lout, the yob, the subversive, the villain -or if itâ€™s your way of portraying yourself (and your likeminded chums) as some sort of White Knights in Shining Armour?
Sir, I don’t know what you do for a living. In my line of work, I get sworn at. I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely unpleasant to be sworn at. Moreover, it is depressingly common-place. It is a crucial part of this anecdote, not because I want him to be portrayed as a ‘yob’, but because it was one of the reasons why we were worried he might actually stab us. If he had said “Good evening, officers, I believe this is a mistake, but if you must, please feel free to search me. Ensure you give me a 5090 stop slip
, because I want to make sure that this miscarriage of justice is correctly reported in your statistics”, he would have been on his way within minutes, without having been wrestled to the ground. Not because he was well-spoken, but because he was polite and would be assessed to be a low threat by me and my fellow officers. Or, to use your own words; he was diplomatic, intelligent, humane, and showed humility
What you seem to fail to understand, is that when you’re in uniform on the street, you have incomplete information. Any hint given by a person helps you create a fuller picture. In my experience, most people do not swear at police officers. Those who do, raise my threat-level. It makes me think: Why does this person hate me? They do not even know me, so it must be the uniform they hate. Why do they hate my uniform? Is it because they have done something wrong?
[...] How long have you been thinking of ways to make it better? Five? Ten? Fifteen minutes? Hereâ€™s an idea. Itâ€™s radical, though, so strap yourself in. How about you get a little bit of tact, a touch of diplomacy, a big helping of intelligence, a sprinkling of humanity and a dollop of humility.Â
You clearly don’t know me, squire, or you wouldn’t have written that. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I, as one constable, can make policing better, more fair, and more just. I am intrigued by your ‘recipe’ for how everything could be fixed, however. Diplomacy? Intelligence? Humanity? Humility? That was, in my opinion, precisely how we handled this particular situation.
At the end of the day, it boils down to a very simple thing: Constables are doing a necessary job that can be dangerous, and most of us have families that would like us to get home to them in one piece. If that safety means that we have to wrestle someone to the ground every now and again, then so be it: I will not apologise for putting the safety of my fellow officer and myself first, and I certainly will not take the ill-informed abuse from an internet besserwisser on my blog.
I bid you a good day, sir, and I hope that you never find yourself in any of the situations I and my fellow officers have to face on a daily basis, because I have to admit I believe you would not be up to the task.