Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sticks and Stones

I have a few molecules of sympathy for what police unionist Greg O'Connor is on about with this disrespect for the police thing:
"I'm not talking about someone just saying 'bugger off'. But, particularly in a bar situation, when police are trying to do their job and someone is yelling 'f-off pigs', police should be able to arrest them and charge them with insulting behaviour. Cases show that it's something police are expected to put up with, but it shouldn't be."

But to make "fuck off pigs" grounds for arrest is over the top and counter-productive. Yeah, it's not much fun getting verbal abuse thrown at you, but it comes with the territory. You shouldn't unnecessarily throw abuse at cops in much the same way you shouldn't throw abuse at octogenarian slow drivers, call centre workers or parking wardens. But it happens, and as far as pressure valves go, it's pretty soft stuff. Talk is cheap.

And a little courtesy can go a long way. As Youthlaw points out, things will usually go better for young ones involved with the police if they show some respect. Is it too much to ask for mutual respect?

Why are more people hurling abuse at cops more nowadays? It might be because respect for the police as a whole has deteriorated over the years. Certainly, the esteem with which police were held dropped like a stone when the last National government merged Road Traffic enforcement with Police. What cost savings were made in the budget were more than offset in that unquantifiable ledger of public goodwill.

More recently, local government bylaw enforcement by police for such petty crimes as breaching alcohol-free areas are also partly to blame (Or bike helmet laws or searches without warrant). Just like teachers, politicians currying populism have dumped the police with ever greater and more encompassing little burdens. Just like teachers, police are faced with more confrontational public relations as they became the coalface nanny instead of focusing on their core functions.

Police culture bears some responsibility for the state of things too. Their lobbyists are always keen to expand the police power base, confusing might with right. The inability to ensure the bad cops who abuse their privileged place as public servants with a monopoly of force are held to account is unhelpful. It is common knowledge that loyalty within the force trumps loyalty to public service every time.

Fault lies on both sides. It is not unreasonable to suggest that both sides of the equation should be weighed up and see if some de-escalation can be brought to bear. A war on words is not the right approach.