Once upon a time – I used to pound the beat. Well – drive round in a panda. Which looked nothing like a panda. Just think standard white saloon car with some extra lights, q two tone siren, stripes, and a boot full of rubbish. Often,quite literally rubbish, as many Sunday mornings spent ‘doing the vehicles’. I got quite intimate with the crap that some folk keep in their vehicles – but that’s another story.
My job consisted of shiftwork, and parading on at a police station, getting my gear, pens and forms ready, having the briefest of briefings with the shift Sergeant, and then going out on patrol. This meant being given a ‘mobile’ or ‘car’ beat, and driving round – eyes peeled for criminals driving, and suspicious characters, and waiting for the inevitable call over the radio to go to a ‘job’. This also meant immense freedom – to go where I wanted – to ‘self generate’ some work – very often this meant stopping drivers for traffic offences, going after drink drivers, and arresting people on outstanding warrants.
And before the backlash starts of ‘going after innocent tax-paying motorists… raising money for the Treasury… getting paid for results’ – it wasn’t like that. For one, we didn’t and still don’t get paid for issuing tickets and making arrests – it wouldn’t work – and I and many others wouldn’t do it anyway. No – I used to look out for the untaxed, uninsured, ‘sheds’ – the ‘pool cars’ of the local criminal/underclass – which were inevitably old, grubby and poorly maintained cars, driven and often carrying, people who were well accustomed to ‘helping the police with their enquiries’. These self-same people were also the local ‘lead miners’, shoplifters, flagstone thieves, drug users, burglars and low-level dealers.
Very often they were disqualified – on occasions, they had forgotten whether they were between, or in the middle of a driving ban – and not unusually, were sometimes stopped and found to be wanted for some offence, or ‘FTA’ (On warrant for failing to appear at Court).
Doing this also meant that I met, mixed with and were known to the local crims – they knew I could be ‘trusted’ and I knew where they lived, who they hung about with, what was happening on an ‘unofficial’ level – which meant that when I did have to turn up in the heat of the moment – the look of recognition often defused a situation, rather than aggravated it.
Pounding the beat meant getting to know it, inside and out. It also meant that ‘putting the word out’ that I was after someone meant that news of their whereabouts might sometimes filter back to me – or else a surrender at the front desk with a solicitor could be negotiated – after all – it’s still an arrest.
But this was also back when central government was way less concerned with figures – the local HQ was less driven by detections, and an awful lot of what used to do was ‘have a word with someone’ – and try as you might – you can’t easily count or quantify that. There was no measure of how well I knew my patch – or what the value of hearing ‘Oh – it’s PC Custerd – he’s alright – for a copper…’
Add to this working with less teams, squads and units – a much larger shift, a good spread of experience, and less crap to deal with – it was certainly a better job then.
At which point I go all misty eyed…