Tuesday, 13 July 2010

"Not telling you, nah nah nyah, nah, thrrrppp!"

Occasionally, I get asked by Devon and Cornwall police's press office to travel up to the force headquarters at Middlemoor, in Exeter, to chat to newly formed Detectives Constables.

Sometimes they're even Detective Sergeants, which means more paperwork, more responsibility and an well-established level of cynicism about the media who they affectionately refer to as "the scum".

Of course, they're rather taken aback when I remind them of their affectionate term for me as I walk in the door and are confronted by about 20 of them sitting in a semi-circle, noting that I too have an affectionate term for them and it's "the filth".

As a stand-up audience, they're a pretty tough crowd, I can assure you. I only thank Parliament we don't have a fully armed police force or I'd be dead by now.

(Quick aside: It’s funny how times change. Years ago, if you had a moat round your village, you felt safe...)

The gist of the short training session is to remind detectives why we reporters badger them every day (to let you know what's going on in your own city), where the law stands in regards to journalists and what we can and can't write (you'd be amazed at how restricted we are), and perhaps finding a way of not treating reporters as you would the stuff you tread in down the local park where the dogs have free reign of the entire field and our children are left with a fenced-in playground.

Now, I do have a lot of respect for The Plod. It's a thankless task most of the time, they frequently have to deal with the kind of people you wouldn't want to see outside of an episode of Eastenders or Jeremy Kyle and suffer immense daily frustration of seeing crooks, thugs and worse boogie their way around the criminal justice system - on legal aid - to a slap-on-the-wrist and another notch on the "I-got-away-with-it"-engraved baseball bat they keep in the boot of their BMW "for when the Wii's broken".

Sadly, this means they invariably end up cynical, right-wing, moaning, growling, hard-arsed buggers who consider anyone left of Genghis Khan to be a wishy-washy, wet-liberal, namby-pampy Guardian-reading, feckless, human-rights-wittering bell-end. Which is where I come in through the door. Hello!

Like I said, tough crowd. Getting them to laugh is a task. Actually, getting them to stop sneering is a task, getting them to laugh is a bit of a bonus.

My best comeback came after one officer suggested that instead of phoning up police for a story, why didn't I just do what all journalists always do and just make it up?

"Well, why don't you do what the police always do and just arrest the first person you find, fit them up and say you've sold the case already...", I joshed back

A lead balloon never was so beaten in the race to the floor by that gag, I can tell you.

Point is, there's stuff they don't tell me, for a host of reasons - they don't trust anyone in the media, they don't trust anyone outside the police force, they don't trust anyone, it's no-one's business what they are doing, the public don't need to know, what's the point anyway we'll just end up being blamed as we always do for everything, you're only trying to find out something so you can give us a kicking in the newspaper, because that's all newspapers do, moan, moan, moan.

Did I say tough crowd? Would you be surprised that after a couple of hours of me explaining to them, often using quite inventive swear-words (we'll, it's not like they're going to nick me in the training room is it?) why the public do need to know, why it is worth highlighting an arrest because it's proof of them doing their job (which, as they hate to be reminded of, is what "we" pay "them" for), that it reassures the public that some scrote has had his collar felt and is off the street if only for as long as a magistrate can release them back into the wild again, they realise that yes, yes, they should be telling us what they're doing?

Well, I'm surprised when it does work, and it has on many occasions where officers call me up having listened to my spiel. But it doesn't always work and on some officers nothing will ever work.

There's a lot of crime which goes on in Plymouth that I don't know about, there's some I know about but for a variety of reasons can't tell you and there's the stuff I do know and can and do tell you.

And I'm constantly trying to make sure there's a lot more of the last one than the first two. And that, dear reader (note the singular, not the plural... I'm a realist) is my day to day life as a crime reporter at the glass ship.


Meanwhile...I found this on a police officer's blog site (not from Plymouth) which I thought you might like to read. You probably can rejig it to where you work as well.

Police management

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below.

He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am".The woman below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude".

"You must be an engineer", said the balloonist."I am" replied the woman, "How did you know?"

"Well, answered the balloonist, everything you told me is, technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far".

The woman below responded, "You must be in Police Management"."I am", replied the balloonist, "but how did you know"?

"Well", said the woman, "you don't know where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, its my fault".

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