I pose this question because people tell me that what is reported in newspapers and shown in television drama public respect for the law and police officers has declined. Well has it?
First let’s agree that laws are simply rules set by our legislature for the population to live by. So our elected representatives create laws to keep people safe and to punish and rehabilitate those who break them. Police and Law Enforcement officials are employed by the state to enforce the laws and to maintain public order.
What’s not to like with that? If you are unhappy with your situation and look enviously at others apparent or real benefits then you might consider breaking these rules to ‘get ahead’ or ‘get even’. This dissatisfaction may be encouraged if there seems to be a disconnect in the way you pay your taxes and rich individuals or corporations can pay less than you in proportion to their earnings.
[“A mans respect for law and order is in precise relationship with his pay check,” Adam Clayton.]
Into this mix of selfish politics (note the small ‘p’) add how the portrayal of the law is presented in the news media and on film. Today laws and law givers are regularly criticised in the press as are the forces of law and order. This is not a bad thing per se but in modern times this can be beamed onto your smart phone almost instantaneously without context. This is a blessing and a curse.
Look back fifty years ago when news was not instant. It required an effort by a select band of journalists to find and report the news and these reporters had a history of being respectful towards people in authority. This was a social norm and was reflected in TV shows such as Z Cars and Kojak. Now everyone can be a reporter.
Today that respect appears to have been much reduced in the media and in entertainment. Think of the shouted questions to senior ministers in Downing Street and the endless speculation often lacking context of substance on 24hr news. The same appears in our declining print media. Well that is at least ‘news’ and you can take it or leave it but what about in our entertainment channels?
In entertainment shows like 24, the line of duty, NCIS, blindspot and many others show law enforcement teams riddled with ‘bad apples’ or staff who struggle to live within the law and whose personal lives are a disaster area. The immediate threat of a major catastrophe storyline encourages writers to allow their characters to break the laws they are supposed to uphold. Violence is often the first recourse not the last. The cerebral detective is mostly forgotten under a wealth of phone hacking, scientific examination and trawling through the dark web. Tension is built with clever camerawork and split screens not thoughtful acting. And it works. I for one like to watch cop dramas but I wonder if the disconnect from reality is becoming the norm? Does the constant repetition that people in authority are mostly dysfunctional, bent and on the take mean that we no longer respect the real ones who are doing their best.
It has been my experience of police officers and staff that they are good people. They are trustworthy, generous and brave as a group and as individuals they are rather like you and me. Yes they have the same issues and some of them do step over the mark but there are checks and balances to cover this. My experience of politicians is similar; at all levels they are people who want to do good.
It was a very pleasant experience to watch Maigrait portrayed by Rowan Atkinson having a positive relationship with his wife. Perhaps a throwback to the ‘golden age of policing’ even if in the second story (“Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads”) there were those ubiquitous bent cops.
It is for you to decide if you think that disrespect has become the norm in the press and more perniciously in drama and what you want to do about it. I hope it will reassure you that I find that police officers as a group are still far more respected than the groups who criticise and smear them.
[“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst,” Aristotle.]
Whether or not our respect for law and order had changed, and if it has been influenced by storytelling trends and in our media, police officers have certainly become more politicised; that will be the subject of another blog.
About the author: Roger Nield was a bank clerk, a ticking manufacturer and a sales manger in the North West of England before becoming a police officer. He joined Greater Manchester Police in 1985 working on Salford and Wigan Divisons’ as well as the Tactical Aid Unit. He transferred to Surrey Police in 2000 where he undertook Operational and Emergency Planning roles for the force and policed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. He was the Neighbourhood Commander for Runnymede for 10 years and his last major operational task was the Magna Carta 800th celebrations. In 2016 he was awarded an MBE for his contribution to Neighbourhood Policing and police use of Social Media.