As happens every now and then we had our OST refresher this week. For those of you not in the job that’s ‘Officer Safety Training’. I always dread doing it as it seems to go on and on and on but I enjoyed it. It does however always raise a lot of issues when it comes to where and when we use force in the execution of our duty and perhaps even more pertinent, how much force we use.
I read with amazement how some people on social networking sites, television, the written media etc berate the police for using force. Many of those criticising describe how if only we as officers were better at talking to people, at reasoning with and relating to those we serve, we could avoid all conflict and everyone would come quiet and do what we ask.
To those people, where do you live and can I come and live there?
It doesn’t work like that I’m afraid. I wish I did. I wish we could avoid all fights I’m sick of the bruises. Those idealists that like to hound us for using force would have you believe that I’m lying, that in reality I drag my knuckles around waiting for the first opportunity to beat people up. I’m not going to say some police officers out there couldn’t use a few lessons in conflict resolution but we are not all like that. We are always taught in training that your best weapon is your mouth and it is very true. Every now and then I get given a special constable to take out and sometimes they ask when things are going to get ‘tasty’ or ‘interesting’ and I tell them all the same. Do not go looking for it, there will be enough times in a career (too many) when trouble will find you without any effort whatsoever.
After my first six months of initial training (seems like a bloody lifetime ago) I rocked up at my station waiting to meet up with my tutor, the experienced officer who would be with me for the next ten weeks showing me the ropes. I was expecting some 6’3 , tough faced, no nonsense old soak who would have villains quaking in their rockports. In reality I got someone about 2 inches taller than me, a lot skinnier than me and despite being two years older he looked about twelve. I thought bloody hell we’ll get killed if it kicks off.
I couldn’t have had a better tutor. There was no alpha male bravado, there was no testosterone flying about and no expectation that I should be some Jean Claude Van Dam. What I witnessed was someone who could talk to people, who could reason with people, who could empathise with people, who could make people laugh but also someone who got the job done, got results and when needed could be assertive. Still to this day I haven’t met anyone in the job as good at talking to even the worst society can throw at us.
But you know what? Even with him, sometimes, not often but definitely sometimes, we had to use force, we had to get ‘hands on’. Whatever people say it is unavoidable. People do not like getting arrested, they do not like getting searched and sometimes they will do anything and everything to avoid it. This resistance is often amplified by the introduction of alcohol, drugs, mental health etc.
People often say when we are in the town centre “LOOK IT TOOK FIVE COPS TO ARREST ONE MAN”. No it didn’t, it took five cops to keep the cops safe, the person being arrested safe and members of the public around safe.
As I have experienced a number of times some people are bigger, they’re stronger and they’re more aggressive so when it comes to trying to restrain them, the force I would have to use on my own would probably seem excessive but if you don’t go in hard and fast you lose and we cannot afford to lose. That isn’t me trying to be some sort of hard man, I’m far from it (lover and fighter spring to mind) but it is the reality. I have been punched in the face, kicked, spat at, pushed over, had things thrown at me and on virtually every occasion it came to that because I was too hesitant, I didn’t identify early enough that talking to this person will not work, they are not reasonable, they will not come quietly.
So to those living in the pacifist’s paradise, come walk a mile in my size 10’s before you label us all bullies and thugs.