My first public duty during my time at training school. Somehow the BBC captured this shot and use it occasionally.
I left school at 16 and started a job at a local garden centre. I spent the summer tending fruit trees, potting on and moving plants about the plot. I’d no education to speak of but I knew I wanted more out of life than what I was doing. Horticulture wasn’t for me as a career but I learned a lot and do enjoy plants as a result. The only adverts for jobs were in the Evening Post newspaper. I applied for a civil service post, in Nottingham, and at 17 I was taken on as an AA (admin assistant).
The work was in a DSS office (Department of Social Security, as it was then) in Station Street, Nottingham. I met some wonderful people and enjoyed the office environment. I also enjoyed going on strike. I’d joined the Red Tape union and at the time computers were threatening be put in place to replace staff. This meant many days of downing tools when negotiations at union level broke down and going on a picket line.
I’d witnessed the miner’s strike of 84 as my family lived in Cotgrave, an area with a strong mining community. Thankfully there was no violence from either side. The only incident of aggression came from our union rep who had her foot run over by the bread van that was delivering to the office for those who weren’t on strike.
Next door to the DSS building was Station Street police station.
This was the same station where I ended up at with an exhausted swan as a Special Constable
( https://www.ianpatrick.co.uk/post/publication-day-how-the-wired-weep ) prior to RSPCA’s arrival.
The police response to our picket line was so low key it could be described as invisible. Every hour the same officer would stick his head out of the station window and shout if we were ok. That was all well and good until a male arrived at our public counter armed with a knife.
A day didn’t go by when there wasn’t an issue of violence at the front counter. Hardly surprising when you consider that most people were desperate when they came to us. I was taking a walk to get sandwiches for our strike line when I saw people bursting out of the front door to the public area. I stayed and observed. I was curious and wanted to see what was happening. There were no mobile phones to start recording events on and I thought I could be of use. How I didn’t know. I could see a guy brandishing a blade and waving it about like Zorro. I don’t think there were any protective screens in place for staff at this time.
Someone had pressed the panic alarm though that was under the counter. The alarm was linked to the police station next door. The same PC who’d been our ‘picket monitor’ attended. He strode up the shared drive, taking his time as he did. He was smoking, taking in the midday sun, as he made his way to the top of the drive and the front of our building. At pinnacle of the drive he took a final hit of nicotine and stubbed the cigarette out against the wall to our building. He acknowledged the crowd with a brief nod and let his helmet drop into his hands. He placed the helmet under one arm and ran his hand over his hair. It was all so casual and not the policing approach many expected, myself included.
He strode into the waiting area where the knifeman was still remonstrating. It was as though the PC was going to join the queue for advice or payment.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Why was he so calm when there was a man with a knife and a crowd outside watching? Why was he alone and where was his backup?
The PC sat down on a seat, withdrew a cigarette and threw the knifeman the packet. He didn’t offer his lighter. He must have known the guy smoked and would have his own or he didn’t need to offer him a way of burning the place down. He remained inside for twenty minutes, talking. The crowd drifted away leaving only a few of us left. Finally the knifeman put the blade on the counter and walked towards the PC. The PC retrieved the knife and they both left. The PC escorted the guy back down the drive towards the rear of the station. A few days later I heard that the PC knew the guy. He was a member of the community on his beat. The knifeman was distressed and needed help. Life had become too much for him and he’d snapped.
I would witness the same thing time and time again over my policing career. Circumstances were all different and the police response not always measured in the same calm approach; but all with the same levels of human suffering involved.
That one incident told me that I couldn’t remain in the DSS forever. Maybe I too could be the decent copper I’d just witnessed and provide a public service that way.
Austerity has destroyed the ethos of community policing but it hasn’t destroyed the majority of police officers sense of compassion, decency and humanity.
There will always be a few who don’t make the grade and sadly they’re the ones that hit the headlines first.
The article below shows a PC on an unrelated cordon. This was the driveway that we shared back in 86/7.