The police are just ordinary workers, we shouldn’t be too harsh on them

“We are still investigating your complaint, madam, rest assured.” I try not to crack up laughing as Derek makes eye contact. “No, we’re not considering a product recall at present. Have a good day.”

“It’s totally unsafe, it just exploded for no reason whatsoever,” Derek says in a singsong voice. “What was it this time? Left it-”

We are interrupted by a low growl from Simon’s desk, a guttural cry of soul-wrenching frustration. “FUCKING PAPERCLIP!” he ejaculates.

I turn back to Derek. We’re all pissed off at Excel, nothing new. Simon has more of a temper than most of us, and is more easily irritated by that shit, but we’ve all smashed up a few computers when our formulae wouldn’t calculate before. Once, the patronising little fuck from IT ended up with a mouse lodged up his rectum for sneering that sometimes the chart function needed manual axis labelling in that awful supercilious manner of his.

“She left it plugged in,” I tell Derek. He rolls his eyes.

“When are they going to learn? We give them all this advice on how to prevent things from blowing up and it’s still ooh excuse me, I expect you to do something about this, I used my modem for an hour and it exploded.

“It’s women,” I say. “Always expect us to do something for us…”

“Oi,” pipes up Laura, the token woman on the team.

“Present company excluded.” I give Laura a wink. We’re mates, it’s just banter. She’s the best at handling the hysterical women and we all know it.

The cleaner creaks in; it’s getting late and we’re all tired. It’s still not the end of the shift, though. We work in silence, filling in endless reports of things whiny customers expect us to do something about. Keys tap, and Simon makes noises like a couple of dogs fucking. Before the end of the shift, we’ll see the innards of his PC, I suspect.

Laura answers the phone, politely making soothing noises at someone bitching about how she urgently needs our help because her modem has exploded and it’s killed her cat. I look up to Derek to wink, but something behind him catches my eye.

Simon has leapt out of his seat. He snatches the handle of the hoover off the cleaner, and, with almost superhuman speed, beats her head in with the stand-up Dyson. Blood splatters. It’s all over Simon, it’s flicked on to Derek, it’s all over the fucking walls, and who’s going to clean it when the cleaner is now a messy stain on the carpet?

“What the fuck, Si?” I ask.

He points at his monitor. His shoulders are heaving from the exertion, his face puce in anger. At first, all I see is a pink smear of brain material sliding down it, but then I understand fully. Simon’s conditional formatting has gone to fuck.

The supervisor walks in. “What the fuck, Si?”

“Conditional formatting,” Derek, Laura and I say in unison.

The boss takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Simon,” he says. “I know just how much of a complete cunt Excel is. I get it. I really do. But the customers keep getting arsey about our conduct, and this is going to be a complete cunt to sort out.”

“Can’t we make it look like an accident?” I suggest. I am reminded of the time Derek got pushed to his limits in the post room. The dickhead clerk just wouldn’t give him his fucking parcel, which Derek needed to continue with his work. In the end, we managed to convince the higher-ups that that dickhead had been so tired of his miserable life he’d ended it all with a letter opener and a franking machine. “She tripped over the wire.”

In our line of work, we’re fairly familiar with the horrible catastrophes that can befall people who don’t adequately follow advice about safety with electronics.

“Could work,” the boss says. “But listen, boys. We’ve got to try and control our tempers. We’re not going to be able use that excuse forever. It’s already a bit hot after Tony blinded that bitch in the canteen who tried to serve him fish fingers.”

A moment of quiet contemplation. We all completely understand what happened to Tony. He was hungry, and missed all the good food because he was stuck on the phone to a customer. He fucking hates fish fingers. What else was he meant to do?

“Whatever. We’ll give it a go,” says our supervisor. “Si, I hope I can cover your arse. Don’t fucking do this again, OK?”

After this harsh dressing down, Simon looks like a deflated balloon with tragic little sad-dog eyes. It’s kind of pathetic, but I sympathise. We’ve all done shit like this before and usually we don’t get chewed out like this. The supervisor leaves, looking pleased with himself. Again, I get where he’s coming from. He’s the one who has to field all the shit.

Derek steps over the bloodied corpse on the floor and pats Simon on the arm.

“It’s OK, mate. You’re tired. Tell you what, you go home and we’ll finish up for you.”

Life comes back into Simon’s eyes. “Thanks.”

“We’re all behind you, mate,” I add.

It’s a tough job, ours, and we get far too much shit when we fuck up. Could you do it?

19 thoughts on “The police are just ordinary workers, we shouldn’t be too harsh on them”

  1. Good point, and well made.
    I have some problems with the analogy though- as the customers to the call centre were not physically present, and no violence was threatened, perhaps a more comparable reaction would have been if Simon’s significant other called and he yelled a 30 minute tirade of violent, offensive abuse. Or if rather than IT support workers it was traffic wardens or bus drivers.

    1. Traffic wardens or bus drivers would be perfect, I think, because they get shouted at/deal with people they don’t want to all the time. Or possibly someone in a shop who’s just doing what their supervisor told them – and then some.

      That said, the principle of this analogy is great, and exactly the point. The same point, in fact, that can (and should) be made about soldiers attacking/torturing/killing innocent people.

      Course, war in general… I think I’m losing my topic here.

      MY POINT IS – good article, good argument. I agree, but you already knew that!

  2. Oh, you know what would be even better? Doctors. Because, like the polis, they’re meant to look after us/keep us safe. Or social workers etc.

    Hell. Basically /any other job/ that deals directly with the public.

    I know that’s really the whole point you were making, but you and I both know that some douchebag will read this and say ‘but they didn’t have the customer right in their face, it wasn’t a crowd, it wasn’t confusing, that’s DIFFERENT wah wah wah’. So, y’know, just pointing out that this analogy applies for ALL PUBLIC FACING ROLES. Okay, polis-supporters? Okay.

    1. I started out with doctors, actually. It got a little too depressing to write so I demoted them all to a call centre!

    2. You know, I started this afternoon reading my twitter-feed quite depressed by the anger. Not because it wasn’t warranted at all, I was angry myself. But it made me consider all the times at work that I had made mistakes, and how those mistakes could have killed or maimed but just through luck have never had any serious repercussions because of my actions (I work in healthcare).
      Every time I made an error, it was due to tiredness, insufficient training or too much pressure put on me by my employers. I think these situations will only get worse with the cuts, and with private sector companies completing work instead of the NHS. Extra pressure, additional targets with less work. I would hate to be vilified because I entered a profession to do good, when I ended up doing bad.
      I appreciate that the police are different -unfortunately, it is a power-heavy job that tends to attract those that crave power, so they can abuse that power. But non-power crazy people don’t want to do the job, so who do you recruit?
      Is having no police force really a valid alternative? Surely we need laws, and therefore need a way of enforcing those laws. I know I am quite naive with such things, and Stavvers generally educates me on the alternatives, so I will await my lessons!

      1. How to do without the police? It’s a long-term goal, and quite a few attitudes are going to have to change (in particular, adoption of the “don’t be a dick” ethos). In the meantime, the power differential between police and people requires removing: tough punishments for those who abuse their power, making deployment of violence a difficult procedure (e.g. having to file a detailed report if batons are drawn, etc), employment of evidence-based strategies (there’s heaps of research on model public order policing, for example, and it’s the diametric opposite of what the police tend to do), removal of the special penalties for “assaulting an officer”, which is massively abused.

        Ultimately, though, huge systemic change is necessary. And it’s possible. 🙂

  3. It would be very interesting to know why the jury didn’t return a guilty verdict. Without looking it up, I’d have thought that an assualt leading to a person’s death would be manslaughter (at the very least – but in this instance there was little evidence that this might have been murder – there the prosecution would have had to prove intention to kill or an intention to inlict grevious bodily harm. From the video I saw, this wasn’t obvious). in the end, maybe the jury weren’t convinced by the medical evidence.

    Strange that Stavvers’ story does involve a clear intention to kill – I wonder if she appreciates the difference ? Oh-hum…..

    Also an alternative to have officers like Harwood in the Police force – is to join up to the Police yourselves (although at the moment, they may not be recruiting – when they do start up again – maybe a campaign to attract the ‘right’ sort might be in order. Not having a Police force is NOT a viable alternative.

      1. Ah…I see…provocation to reduce it to manslaughter. Always a difficult (partial) defence to run. I once had a client who did – jury potted him as charged – murder.

    1. “Also an alternative to have officers like Harwood in the Police force – is to join up to the Police yourselves (although at the moment, they may not be recruiting – when they do start up again – maybe a campaign to attract the ‘right’ sort might be in order. Not having a Police force is NOT a viable alternative.”
      Aye, good plan. After that, we can put an end to war crimes by just joining the army and not massacring anyone, and then maybe put an end to gun crime by just starting a gang and not shooting our rivals. Have you ever heard of these things called “structure” and “culture”?

      1. I find it very interesting when people demand that a critique must include “an alternative”. It’s essentially a silencing tactic targeted at people pointing out the flaws in an existing system, and it’s actually a bit silly.

        Imagine pointing out a building is structurally unsound and this being ignored because you haven’t included a full refurbishment programme in your analysis that the building was about to collapse killing everyone inside.

      2. I don’t think we’ll ever have a perfect police force, or even a very nice one. I think this text from a participant in the student movement at the end of 2010 sums up the futility of trying to reform the police:
        In the short-to-medium term, it might not be possible to abolish the police entirely, so I’d suggest that the only thing that might get them to tone down their violence a bit is if they’re forced to face serious consequences for their actions. I think it’s very clear by now that those consequences are not going to come through the legal system. I’m not trying to incite any unlawful behaviour here, but speaking purely hypothetically, I think that it’s reasonable to suggest that, if the kind of events we saw following the police killing of Mark Duggan became the standard reaction every time the police killed someone, they might start to get a bit less keen on killing people.

    2. My industry (engineering) has major cultural problems (e.g. sexism). 15 years ago when I chose my career path, I naively thought that the best way to help change that culture was from the inside. Now I’m on the verge of burnout and nothing has appreciably changed.
      The policing culture definitely needs changing, but just joining them ousrselves is not going to change it. I wish I knew what would.

  4. They kill, then they lie about it, then the truth comes out, but they get away with it anyway.

    Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson are just two examples of unpunished manslaughter where public statements were made attesting to the ‘provocation’ of the police by the victim. Then some arsehole (see up-thread) ignores all the available evidence, trots out the “just following orders” line, and decides that we are collectively to blame for not joining the force, that we have no right to criticise unless we’re in uniform.

    Stavvers, you remain consistently spot-on. Thank you.

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