Monday, October 30, 2006

One Whistleblower The Left Hates

There’s a certain irony in the success of PC Copperfield’s book ‘WastiNg Police Time’. Sales have undoubtedly been helped by the intrinsic glamour of law enforcement, yet few people have devoted so much effort to debunking the mystique of the police.

Regular readers of his blog will know what to expect. The book is structured in the style of a series of blog posts, albeit the individual ‘posts’ are (mostly) original or (occasionally) heavily rewritten versions of actual blog posts – for once the editing process has managed to clear up the writing style without draining away the vigour or the individuality. Of course, there’s the usual downside with this format, with little room to explore topics in each individual 'post'. Then again, most of the cases covered barely deserve consideration in the first place – one of the book’s revelations is just how much police time is spent picking up after the underclass.

One of the long-running jokes at Copperfield's blog is the section on the sidebar headed ‘police equipment’ which contains links to stationary suppliers. After reading this book, you’ll understand why. This isn’t a book about law enforcement, as much as a book about what the police do in place of enforcing the law. Copperfield spends 90% of the book carrying out stupid activities while pursuing pointless cases so as to massage meaningless figures.

Of course, Copperfield really is a trained observer, and he has an eye for the telling fact and the ability to turn a phrase. Isn’t ‘Hogarth in Burberry’ just the perfect description of much of modern Britain ? Still, the most devastating part of the book are the sections where he simply lays out paperwork required even for the most trivial of matters.

As the ‘Hogarth’ line implies, Copperfield is unsparing in his assessment of modern life, and that includes Liberalism’s sacred cows. In particular, I get the feeling Copperfield doesn’t go for all this mealy-mouthed talk of ‘different kinds of families’. Indeed, without the sections in which Copperfield deals with the shrapnel from family breakdown, the book would be half the size.

Certainly, Copperfield has managed to send large sections of the Left beserk. Lefty conspiracy theorists claim Copperfield and Frank Chalk are the same person, which would at least explain the lousy response times – he’s got to finish his marking.

Outright lunacy aside, the Left’s main angle of attack is to claim Copperfield is bringing the police into disrepute. They might want to think about that. In so far as the Left has failed to debunk so much as a single comma, aren’t they really saying that any fair representation of the modern police will lower the public’s opinion of them ? What does that say about modern policing ?

That’s not to say that Copperfield’s thesis is entirely convincing. No matter how bad management is, there are plenty of loonies even in the lower ranks of the police. More to the point, how come we had to wait for an obscure PC to tell us how and why the system was so utterly screwed ? It’s not as if the Police Federation is exactly backwards in coming forwards on other issues, so why the blackout on this insanity ?

Equally, insane though many of the police’s policies are, they didn’t come out of nowhere. Copperfield describes cheerfully arresting obviously innocent people. Well, OK, Dave, but don’t be surprised when the pendulum swings the other way. Then again, the whole ‘arrest the innocent’ policy came about as a result of a perception that the police didn’t take domestic violence seriously. It’s not just the individual policies, it’s that every single one seems to be interpreted in the most insane way possible.

What we have here is a deranged arms race between ever more aggressive police powers, and ever more absurd restrictions on the police. True, Copperfield does hit on at least one aspect of the basic problem: perverse incentives. Police management get no real benefit from cutting crime, but risk the boot if their officers are found to be committing thought crime. Hence, micromanagement at the expense of effectiveness. The top brass are just behaving logically. Sleazily, but logically.

That’s the deeper problem right there. It’s not just in the slums that personal responsibility has disappeared. What’s the real difference between chavs sitting around whining about their ex, and police officers complaining that ‘the system fell down the stairs, guv’ ? For that matter, what’s with us ? How come the public is happy to fork over ever increasing amounts of cash to pay for public servants who show less drive and initiative than the average pizza boy ?

You might have thought all that glossy PR from your local police was nonsense, but this book reveals a system that’s dysfunctional in ways even the most cynical of us could not have imagined. Never mind the balance between freedom and security, we have somehow contrived to sacrifice both. PC Copperfield’s book is funny, very readable and utterly devastating. No wonder the government is in denial.

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