Have Good Cops and Other Decent Public Servants Become Irrelevant?

Many years ago, I tried to explain to a PhD supervisor how lying is forced down your throat as a cop, just a habitual part of the job.  I was sort of comparing it with Wittgenstein‘s rule observation amongst religionists bending the knee.  The rule is, sort of, the action.  The lying started in small matters like issuing cautions, making up evidence lines retrospectively, leaving blank pages in pocket books to write up ‘contemporaneous’ evidence, listing visits to prisoners every ten minutes by scribbling them all down at the end of shift having checked to make sure they were alive and so on.  The more complicated the cases you took on, the more complex this lying became.  In other ways, saluting senior officers could easily be the lie meaning ‘fuck you tosser’.  One learned to give evidence with false certainty to magistrates and juries lusting after credibility.  As a young man I had not twigged just how much our society relies on mannered lies, or the extent to which it is all pretty much lies.  The more I have been able to educate myself, the more I have felt knowledge runs in reverse.  Yet it doesn’t lapse to idiot relativisms of enfeebled selfishness.  I now accept we can get to some real history and method.  Courtrooms do not allow for much of such healthy scepticism.

Generally, once one “lapses” to the doubt, imagination and other features standard in critical reasoning, one loses all credibility.  This is one reason so much teaching and politics is conducted magisterially, a fault recognised by Bacon and Sextus Empiricus.  One has to be certain oneself in order not to attract the ridicule of small minds.  So we were taught, with abject precision, that Britain was invaded by Julius Caesar in 53 BC.  If you haven’t been updated, he couldn’t even get his lads on the boat.  Much else we ‘know’ is as bad as this.

The adult position, I suppose, is that we know it’s a dirty old world and have to get on making and mending, doing small ‘p’ politics, white-lying and so on.  There is no virtue in being an innocent truth-machine.  My mature students, work weary often, breathe a sigh of relief when they realise I am not so stupid as to expect them to use truth revealing techniques in the workplace and that they are a combination of adventures in the classroom and professional tools that allow clearer presentation and justification of official lines.  Sometimes they can even help in practical, usually manufacturing, control processes.

I used to think one could go along trying to do the decent thing, in the sorry mess of our society, in the belief it was correcting itself.  I no longer believe this at all, though I cling to some personal notion of duty to try where I can.  The battle is lost, maybe a bit like in Halo Reach – all one can do is die in the hope of contributing to a different future in which virtue may come alive.  For me, the issues are to do with philosophy and a scientific world-view.  Pearls before swine perhaps?

Charlie Owen has it those of us who joined the cops before 78/9 did so to be cops, not HRM and Policy Implementation Officers.  Pay was too poor for it to be otherwise – though in 73 my starting pay was higher (plus rent allowance) than starting grade as an executive officer in the Civil Service and I was bored with chemistry jobs.  We can be sure that cops and public sector workers at the sharp end who do fine things (we should not forget those who don’t and analyse why), do so only sure of Charlie’s  battalions of pencil-pushing 9-5 cat’s arse micro managers climbing the greasy pole in the upside-down pyramid.  SMTwonkers lied along with Nulabour, but will lie along with ConDem.    This is everywhere, and the coming cuts will not remove the problem but reinforce it.  The real message will be tow the line or you’re out.  Management have grown to love being able to threaten other people’s jobs.

Dissenting voices have been few, and generally focus on very old themes.  The essence of it all concerns a brutal lack of concern to identify real problems and sort them out.  Various sectors of society become the ‘new Jews and Gypsies’ to blame for problems that have been swept under the carpet for decades.  It becomes ‘racist’ to notice all our taxi drivers have become ‘ethnic’ and so on; but not to complain about our ‘evil poor’ in dire terms.  Our society has been as much gerrymandered by the smashing of industries as immigration and financial sector focus.  The public sector now sees much the same sort of restructuring coming, but stood by as steel, mining and other industries were smashed because its workers were too expensive and so on.

Our literature used to have heroes who were the virtuous individuals who made a difference.  I even like Dirty Harry.  Yet who are we collectively – the heroes or the collective bureaucracy?  And which of the real heroes has spoken out on the real problems and really changed anything?  I not only saw none when tormented by mad, vile antisocial crooks, but witnessed the opposite.  Sure there were a few good people who tried – but they all failed, and the problem is not resolved (it is for us personally), and there has been no sign of lessons learned.  How does our experience fit statistically?  I can only say everyone I manage to meet who has had or is still suffering similar problems has been failed, and only sometimes have there been a ‘few good men’ who have helped.

They are about to decimate the ranks.  Find out what this really meant in a legion.  It was always a means of putting the shits up the rank and file to make them ‘loyal’ to the establishment.  What’s needed is a systematic change.  In policing it is about getting officers who can fix problems, but even the best I’ve seen failed on the crime and failed to stop crooks in their own ranks.  This was across police and Town Hall services and politicians.

Academe is no better.  Last week, one boss was touting for staff to work for nothing over some weekends, hinting there were slackers about.  Two of these slackers are right under his nose and do less than two days a week, term-time only.  Staff are encouraged to teach from textbooks only – the very idiot checklist stuff that causes most of the problems.  A few good people still try to do the right thing, just as a couple of local beat cops do.

Work and fair pay would be an answer to lots of our problems; but who is organising any work or fair pay?  Look at the documentaries that film our youth failing to cope with real work abroad.  I found work in shipyards (managerial, though I did go hands-on from time to time) much tougher and exhausting compared with most policing (remember the term ‘a Bobby’s job’?), academic work more stressful (though easier to opt out of).

The answers are not about creating virtue and heroism in individual minds – but about this becoming habit in work in a sensible way.  Give me the pick of a few good cops round here and we could make a massive difference here – but what of elsewhere?  We did experiments on this in the 70s.  The system has been breeding quietism and corruption.  The key problem may well be how scared we are as mortgage slaves, even as we stand up to rotten odds and violence.  And the system that control this, is the system planning ‘changes’.  I should coco the freaking clown!

We have a serious case of mad decadence in denial on our hands.  We are now lying as surely as most of my colleagues did when they read the Judges’ Rules cautions out as though they had used them on the street on that dark, raining night.  Now, all sorts of procedural cobblers is being read out.  This can only happen because we can’t face the real truth or tell it like it is.  What is the nature of the society that cannot just let us say what really happened?  And what happens to good people forced into these habits?

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2 thoughts on “Have Good Cops and Other Decent Public Servants Become Irrelevant?

  1. It is far too easy for far too many to just tow the line. Who purpetuates this? We all do. I am thankful that (most of the time) I can sleep, happy in the knowledge I tried to do ‘it’ right, whatever ‘it’ was at the time.

    I once received a commendation for ‘telling the truth’ (isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do) in a case where the offender was found not guilty. I say ‘offender’ because he was (and he admitted it before & after the trial), I could have lied and gained a conviction for ‘the system’ but didn’t, a factor that didn’t exactly endeer me to ‘the job’ but hey, burying your principles for the sake of peer adulation is a disgusting trait for anyone to posess!

  2. Classic lying involved defendant recognition. I had a good memory for this and often had to point chummy out to other officers involved. The real truth would have been something like, ‘it was 12 months ago, how am I supposed to remember now?’ but we were trained to point out defendants with certainty. Legal fictions such as this persist.

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