You could say that I was brought up with a certain level of respect for the Police. One of my Mum's cousins recently retired from the Rotterdam Police and I heard a rumour that I had a relative on my Dad's side in the Leicestershire Police at one point.
So I was quite surprised when I was asked by Darren Goddard, the Hate Crime Officer of Leicestershire Police, to put in a proposal with some questions to ask the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police. Surprised because the conversation which led up to this started off on the subject of one of my main bugbears when it comes to the Police.
Anyway - I put the proposal in and I was absolutely convinced that the Communications Department would probably arrest me and allow the Chief Constable to interview me (under caution) instead of allowing me to interview him. The three questions I put in my proposal weren't exactly the most friendly but they were points which I had wanted answers to for a long time. In fact, one of the questions was the cause of an argument I had had on Twitter which resulted in at least six Police Officers (or Twittercops) all ganging up on me.
Yesterday was the day of my meeting with the Chief Constable. The meeting was a rather eye opening one for me. That was quite ironic as all my questions were related to the visibility of the Police in one way or another.
I am very lucky to live in an area which is served by Leicestershire Police. The Chief Constable, a very friendly man called Simon Cole, doubles up as the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Lead for Disabilities. Just the person to ask about the visibility of the Police.
When I say the "visibility of the Police" I am not talking about the amount of Police Officers on the street, etc. I am actually referring to the literal visibility of the Police (as in whether or not I can see them without straining my eyes when they are in my vicinity).
I will start with the issue which started the whole idea off - and has given me the biggest headache (sometimes literally).
If you see a Police car on an Emergency you will notice that it comes with a siren, blue flashing lights on the roof and alternating flashing headlights. These alternating flashing headlights can cause people to feel unwell. During the hours of darkness they have a very nasty habit of disorienting me. Bright lights and Photophobia is not a good combination at the best of times. Bright white alternating flashing headlights driving towards, or past me, at speed at night is lethal (and that is only with one car - a convoy of them just makes me want to lie down).
I had previously been advised by a Police Officer that the alternating flashing headlights had to be on whenever the blue flashing lights were on.
You can imagine my relief when Mr Cole informed me that the alternating flashing headlights are not supposed to be used during the hours of darkness. The reasons Mr Cole gave me for that decision were not so different from the ones I stated above.
The next question was about the uniforms. Particularly the change from white shirts to black shirts. (I also threw in a question about the possibility of having the Officer's surname put on the shirts.)
Apparently the almost complete invisibility in certain conditions (as far as I am concerned at least) of the black shirts has a solution as another part of the uniform - fluorescent green body armour (unless of course you are in a section of the Police for whom it would not be a good idea to be immediately visible, ie, Armed Police, etc, or you are in circumstances where announcing exactly where you are is not useful). This body armour should be worn when on duty and dealing with the public.
When Mr Cole showed me his body armour he also made a comment which kind of made me smile. He pointed out that his name appeared on the body armour, as well as the shoulder number. After he had said that he went on to say that some Police Forces have the Officer's name in Braille. This could be rather interesting for two reasons. The first being that I had been led to believe that touching a Police Officer when on duty was the quickest way of getting yourself arrested. Secondly, using myself and Mr Cole as an example, it would help if the Officer was roughly the same height as the blind person they were dealing with. I am 5ft 10" (or approx 1.79 m) tall. Mr Cole towers over me (I think he is approximately 6ft 4"). Either that or the name may also have to be in Braille on something portable, ie, a Warrant Card.
The final question is the one which got me into the argument I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post - it concerns Tasers. More to the point - it concerns the shouted instructions before a Taser is deployed. Particularly if it is dark (or the officers are not visible for some reason). The argument I had had with the Twittercops had left me more than a little scared (what didn't help was that my argument was shortly after a blind man got accidentally Tasered in a case of mistaken identity). Apparently, according to one of the Twittercops, all I had to do was obey the instruction to "Stop" and I would be OK. What they didn't realise is that if I cannot see the person who is giving me instructions the first thing I am going to do is try to find out where they are. (Try explaining a sight problem and its associated headaches in burst of 140 characters including spaces.)
According to Mr Cole the Taser is only carried by certain Police Officers (who have been trained). The officers also shout more instructions than just "Stop". In fact, they shout one peice of information which would be very handy. (Let's just say that it reduces the possible angles I would have to scan to find them.)
Remember I said I am lucky to live in an area served by the Leicestershire Police?
This is because I was informed that although most Police Forces have their own Independent Advisory Groups (or IAGs) Leicestershire is the only Police Force which has an IAG dedicated to issues faced by disabled people. This means there is a panel of people who can make suggestions and advice the Police on the issues faced by disabled people. Funnily enough, I think more Police Forces should have one.
After walking in to the meeting with some trepidation I came out feeling educated - more importantly I came out feeling like my questions were valid and treated like they were useful.
Robert Peel's principle was "Policing for the Public by the Public". I think he forgot one vital element - as personfied by Mr Goddard and Mr Cole - answerable to the Public. After all, without the Public there would be no Police.
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