Within the last few weeks, it was my dubious pleasure to assist the Grim-on-th't-Moor divisional priorities of reducing crime, bringing offenders to justice and generally doing the local licensees a favour. This is a rolling operation – let’s call it ‘Safer streets’ which means that money from the council and money from the Police authority is poured into the overtime pot to provide a lucky Sergeant and 5 PC’s to police the town centre with all it’s lovely pubs and clubs, of a Friday and Saturday night.
Needless to say, this is nowhere near enough bobbies to cope with the '24 hour cafe culture, civilized drinking blah.. blah.. blah..' , so this is supplemented by the response team working lates – who from 9.00 pm to 3.00 am assist, and also departments and units, such as mine – the non-response, slightly specialized office dwellers are dragged out, kicking and screaming once every two to three months to do a ‘Safer streets weekend’.
It is not terribly popular.
Bearing in mind one third of the officers doing this are bribed by overtime payments at time and a half – one third are taking a break from flying round in a panda car, and the remaining third are out past their bedtimes, none of the officers there are there by choice for the love of it.
Why is it so awful?
A number of factors – try combining lots of drunks – working unsocial hours – being stood out in the street for hours on end, in all weathers – and not able to take any respite in any of the warm and overcrowded drinking dens – occasional violence and abuse (directed towards us – not dished out – despite what we’ve all seen of the G20 footage) – but mainly boredom.
The boredom is the killer. There are hours of waiting for something to happen – otherwise it’s just watching hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people aged 15 up to…I don’t know… 65-ish? wandering from club to pub to kebab shop and eventually – God willing – to a taxi that they’ll actually pay for.
And each time we do it there is a ‘Groundhog day’ like quality to the whole proceedings. It feels the same – every single time. It starts with a briefing – a review of the previous weekend, then any notable events – such as local or televised football matches – then some notes about any of the local premises causing problems. Even this is predictable – anywhere with a fixed entry fee and then drink all you want deal usually means trouble, as does any of the bars or clubs struggling to fill the floor, so the ‘standards of entry’ are lowered. This means the ‘customers’ who would struggle to get in anywhere else are more than welcome to spend their hard earned cash – or dole money.
And then to the town. For a few hourss, which involves an awful lot of standing about. A bit of chatting to the doorstaff. And some chatting to the revelers. And some disbelief at what some are wearing. All I can say it’s a good thing we’re not the fashion police – as tickets would be doled out for failing to maintain beer-bellies, or display of an offensive 'muffin top' , or else wearing an outfit in circumstances likely to cause a breach of the peace. The dull thing is watching other people enjoy themselves, and not joining in. Given the choice, I’d slope off for a quiet pint. Most of us would. But we can’t and we don’t. So we wait.
And all this waiting is for the very end of the evening – when the last of the clubs close, and the vertical drinking barns throw their tired and emotional customers out into the street. By now it is about 4.00 am, and the happy, silly and annoying revellers hve long since gone. This leaves the angry, confused and argumentative ones. No-one is smiling anymore. We’ve been at work for 6-7 hours already – we’re tired and are longing for home and bed. But we don’t go anywhere until the hundreds of drunken, cross, slightly agitated people have gone home.
They’re cross because they’ve had an argument with their partner – or the group they went out with have become separated – they’ve lost their phone – or it’s been stolen – or they’ve drunk all their taxi money – or now outside they can settle the score with the lad or lady who punched them on the dancefloor in the club. And they’re all drunk. Almost without exception. Especially the ones who tell you they’re not – but we’re trained you see, we can tell, in fact we're all experts in diagnosing drunkenness – glazed eyes, face red and flushed – unsteady on feet and slurring words – ‘He was drunk your worships, drunk as a newt.’
And for anyone on the frontline of the public sector knows all too well, drunk people are, regardless of age, occupation, class or gender, sexuality or race, belief or nationality – drunk people are, ladies and gentlemen, utter arseholes.
Arseholes who don’t listen, won’t do as you ask – who talk absolute rubbish, often very steadily and precisely (Cos’ they’re not drunk, you see…) and they now have a connection with the fluorescent jacketed police who are there to perform an extended and slightly surreal playground duty, so they wander up and decide now of all times to have a conversation. This last hour or so is the bit we’ve all waited for – this is where the fights break out, the injured stagger up to us, the punch drunk decide to swear and swagger, and sometimes even try to initiate a fight with the police. This is the crazy hour of blue lights, ambulances, shouting, sounds of breaking glass and where the video footage of ‘Booze Britain’ is sourced.
So the next time you’re thinking of the police, seeking to establish the police state, inerfering with politicians or , crushing democratic protest and generally being brutal , just spare a though for Sgt Custerd and his colleagues, dealing with his reality, a long way from London, and a long way from the passing media frenzy, because this is what the police actually do, day in, day out.
Mind how you go, sir.