The police seem to be ever present in the headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons with stories of brutality, corruption, greed and dishonesty. Some of these scandals are self inflicted and the media understandably grab hold of them and squeeze them for all they’re worth. Other stories however are misrepresented and the police service can take a pounding in the press on the basis of a half truth. There is a place for publishing and broadcasting the negative headlines, and the public should be informed about these issues, but there seems to be very little coverage of the positive aspects of policing.
The papers and television are dominated by negative headlines about policing because they make for interesting news. As human beings we seem to have an inbuilt and morbid fascination with the misery and misfortune of others and seeing institutions brought low, so I suppose it is understandable. However, I don’t think this is reflective of what the public at large think about the police. Most people I meet are supportive of the police and don’t want to see us fail. They deserve to know about the good work that is accomplished to keep their communities safe.
Like any other organisation, there are a minority in the police who will give the majority a bad name. It only takes one high profile incident or scandal for reputation of the police to be tarnished. This is not helped when commentators jump on the bandwagon and pass verdict before an investigation has completed, or when headlines set the national rumour mill in motion by allowing “trial by press”. It is also disappointing that often chief officers and government ministers do not appear to defend officers robustly enough, or put the record straight where appropriate.
There are police officers who have lost their honesty and integrity, or who deliberately break the law and there is no place for them in the police service. It is right that they are identified and removed from a position of power and responsibility. There are also organisational failures which should be dealt with and corrected, but too often the police get the blame for failing to prevent certain crimes or incidents, when in reality there was very little that could have been foreseen and avoided. It is important to have freedom for the press to report these cases but, they should report the successes with the same vigour as the failures.
Bad press does nothing promote public confidence. The police service works very hard to promote public confidence but the overwhelming majority of police work is unreported and unrecognised. The police service is not looking for glowing reports of how wonderful they are on every page of the daily paper, but it would be refreshing to hear the good news stories more often. Generally the positive stories are covered by TV documentaries which often create a very artificial and glamorised picture of police work.
For every scandal that hits the press there are thousands of unreported success stories. Criminals are brought to justice and victims protected, lives saved and public safety improved. They don’t get major press coverage because they don’t sell papers, create public outrage, or promote the prevailing political agenda. They do matter to the public though, and I believe are the main reason why officers across the country stay committed and motivated. Despite rock bottom morale, we press on because the work we do makes a difference to the people that we deal with every day – The elderly victim of a distraction burglary, the family of a fatal road collision victim killed by a drink driver, the rape victim, the resident plagued by anti social behaviour, the person with mental health problems, the vulnerable missing person – The list is endless.
This is what policing is really about – ordinary officers, dealing with ordinary people, and making a positive difference to their lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might be. Politicians and police leaders can squabble, the press report the scandals, a few rogue officers can fall off the wagon, organisational mistakes can be made, resources can be cut and morale battered, but as long as there are dedicated and honest police officers serving their communities, we will continue to have the finest police service in the world.