Old Bill needs to be more PC

The police are having a bad time of it lately, with more than a spot of bother in the manor. Feared and disliked by Middle England, who resent their heavy handed treatment of motor-ists, their apparent inability to catch burglars, and their willingness to prosecute householders who set about intruders, the boys in blue stand accused of institutionalised racism.

Then again, who doesn’t? The entire teaching profession is said to be guilty of this unusual and newly created offence of subliminal political incorrectness. Look more closely – and you can be sure the McCarthy ites will do just that – and you will no doubt unearth unwitting racism of the most vile and heinous variety in the Mothers Union, the Church of England, the Country Music Festival, the Royal Bath & West Show, the Pregnancy

Advisory Service, and Cockfosters Bowls Club. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

But we have gone too far in beating the police about the head. After all, who would want their job? Obliged not merely to see, but also to immerse themselves in, human behaviour at its worst, and to clear up the mess of other people’s lives on a daily basis, their lot is indeed not a happy one.

True, they get above themselves a bit from time to time, but to pull rank on a speeding motorist is but a small compensation for having to deal with the criminal underclass.

We are going to need the Old Bill more than ever in the years ahead, especially with the right to roam about to become law. Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common are just two examples of what happens in open spaces when the public is allowed free access to them.

The Country Landowners’ Association and the entire agricultural community are understandably fearful of the corrupting influence that outdoor human behaviour might have on the beasts of the fields. I would not care to be the police officer charged with the unpleasant and dangerous duty of apprehending a cruising bull.

There is, however, an answer that is as plain as a truncheon wrapped around a blockhead’s ear and as powerfully heady as a whiff of CS gas. It is, of course, that great emollient, cure-all, elixir vitae, and philosopher’s stone of our times, public relations.

If Sir Paul Condon and the boys at the Met had put a dab or two of PR behind their ears they would not be in their present mess. Had they hired one of London’s many PR gurus – or, better still, PR icons, for such there must be – they would soon have been put right about canteen culture. Out would have gone sausage and chips and sauce bottles on the table and in would have come crisp white napkins and guacamole with pitta bread. With a little thought so many difficult things can be put right.

As so often happens, there is at the grass roots of an organisation a better, more intuitive understanding of what is required than there is at the top.

Take my local Neighbourhood Watch bobby, PC Baldrick (not his real name, but close enough), who, what with constabulary duties to be done, is seldom if ever seen in the neighbourhood, but makes up for his absence by sending us all a monthly newsletter.

It is evident from this eagerly-awaited publication that the man is a PR natural. Like Cleopatra, custom cannot stale his infinite variety. He is tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, and yet concerned about all the little things that matter.

His latest newsletter, for instance, exhibits in its opening paragraph a world weariness that commands both instant sympathy and agreement. “It’s as sure as God made little green apples that as soon as I report a good reduction in crime figures, some little criminal will come in and do his evil best to mess things up. As you can see from our auto crime figures we have taken a bit of a bashing, especially at one end of the Watch”. Thus villainy, clad small and evil, conspires to thwart PC Baldrick’s ceaseless fight against the forces of darkness.

But is he downhearted? Of course not. “There were some failed attempts, however, and those that decry the use of a car alarm might be advised to revise there (sic) thinking.” But it’s when he turns to the minutiae that we see PC Baldrick in his most gentle and favourable light. “Please remember, hedgehogs tend to hibernate between November and mid-March and may choose a pile of leaves or branches in your garden. For this reason, if you have to get rid of such material, move it to a different spot before setting fire to it as a hedgehog may still be sheltering in it.”

We shall never know how many Tiggywinkles will rouse from winter slumber this month, blink in the soft sunlight, rub their eyes, stretch their limbs, and discover to their relief that they are not hedgehog flambé, but they owe Baldrick a drink.

I wish I could pass on in detail his advice about “plants that burglars hate” – “pyracantha, mahonia, ilex and smilax all give a wonderful display but also possess a kick in the tail for the unsuspecting” – but alas space does not permit. I shall instead conclude with the ringing rallying cry: “Baldrick for Chief Commissioner!”

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