‘The town where the police have given up.’ Many browsers attracted by that clickbait headline, and who already are dismayed by the priorities of modern policing, will have shrugged and thought: ‘So what? We long ago gave up on them.’
Most people wish to see police patrolling on the streets and investigating the everyday crimes that blight lives. But today officers are as likely to be photographed waving the Rainbow flag or ‘promoting awareness’ by fatuously posing in fancy dress, high heels or with painted nails.
In this case, the ‘town where police don’t come out’ is Hartlepool, County Durham. A BBC investigation found that during a recent weekend Cleveland Police had, for a population of more than 90,000 ‘monkey hangers’, only ten officers on duty.
In other words, a visible police officer on a Saturday night is now about as common a sight as Lord Mandelson, the town’s former MP, on the razzle in Hartlepool.
The reason given is, of course, lack of funding. According to Mayor Allan Barclay: ‘Policing is now non-existent for low-level crimes . . . the police’s hands are tied by budgets cuts.’
This is the same reason why Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, said several weeks ago that forces must prioritise ‘core policing’ over ‘investigating misogyny as a hate crime’, however ‘deserving and desirable’ she thinks the latter might be.
Nonetheless, the suspicion remains that today, in Hartlepool and elsewhere, there is a greater chance of being collared for sending an offensive tweet or filming a bad taste joke than for committing burglary, car theft or vandalism.
‘Criminals are very happy because they know they can get away with it,’ says Mayor Barclay. Small wonder that residents have organised their own night-time patrols and are using social media to appeal for information on crimes; some victims of theft even admit to recovering their goods by engaging the services of ‘local hard men’.
On the night when there were only ten duty officers, all were occupied with no one left to respond to emergency calls. This was partly attributable to Cleveland Police having closed Hartlepool’s custody suite: to detain miscreants, arresting officers now have to drive them 15 miles to Middlesbrough.
Logistically, this obviously is far from ideal. On the other hand, threatening potential criminals with being forcibly taken to Middlesbrough might prove quite a deterrent.
In Cleveland, police cars are reported to sit idle because there is no one to drive them. And in a lighter tale concerning police cars, the Independent Office for Police Conduct wants there to be a national policy for the covering of blue emergency lights on unmarked police vehicles. This follows an inquiry into a collision in North Wales involving a police BMW which was unmarked apart from having emergency lights underneath the grille. The investigation found that it had been difficult for the other driver to see the blue flashing lights because they had been covered by . . . nylon tights. To prevent unmarked cars being identified as police vehicles, it appears to have been widespread practice to camouflage the emergency lights, often using women’s nylons.
Perhaps I’ve watched too many re-runs of The Sweeney. But isn’t it supposed to be the gun-wielding villains, and not the police cars, who wear the stocking masks?