When constabulary duty’s to be done
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Readers who take an interest in police activities may recognise that as one of nine ‘Peelian’ Principles of Policing. The idea is a straightforward one: that a police officer is just another citizen, no different from those around them except that they’re paid to enforce the law for a living and so need a few extra legal powers. How true that remains in 2012 is up for debate when that little difference has grown to mean they also need all sorts of extra equipment, as can often be seen merely by glancing at a police officer and what they carry around with them these days. In this part of upside down land police, now mostly decked out in cargo pants that make the wearer look like they have an allergy to trouser presses, are provided with some or all of the following for use in the course of their duties.
Whereas their fellow citizens are, as long as they provide them themselves and are sensible about using them in public, allowed roughly the following: a water pistol, offensively strong perfume, a small stick, a Commodore SS minus the decals, and finally…
And to be brutally honest I’m not all that sure about the water pistol or the stick. In private, sure, things are different, and Aussies can even buy a Smith & Wesson Military & Police model semi-auto pistol, though not the .40 and not with a 15 round magazine (maximum the law allows is .38 and ten rounds) and with predictable restrictions on use, purpose and storage. Good luck asking to be allowed to wander round with one in public though, and I don’t think you can get capsicum spray or telescopic batons at all.*
You might be thinking that this is going to be me going off on one about private gun ownership and why, if the public is the police and vice versa, law abiding and responsible citizens may not arm themselves. Bearing in mind that closer to Robert Peel’s day the police borrowed firearms from passing members of the public at least once I could say something about that, but actually no, not today.** And not least because the police here are, with very rare exceptions, only armed when on duty – presumably a law abiding and responsible police officer becomes a criminally reckless tool at clocking off time or Victoria Police can’t afford enough guns so it’s sharesies. No, where I’m going with this is that if the police really need all those toys, plus radios and body armour and even more kit carried by various support units, because of the demands of 21st century policing then why the fuck did they decide to stop a stolen car being driven at high speed on the Hume Freeway by forming a roadblock made out of unarmed and unequipped citizens in their private vehicles? And double why the fuck did they leave them in the goddamn cars, and triple why the fuck did they include vehicles with children on board?
”The primary duty of a police officer is to protect life and property. This duty comes above all else, including the need to apprehend offenders.”
– Victoria’s chief traffic policeman, Kieran Walshe, in an opinion piece for The Age in January
David Rendina in that clip there had his partner and their 8 and 9 year old children in his vehicle when police gestured to him to park up at the rear of the formation on the emergency lane side, and being one of the last to be directed he had little choice because the freeway was already blocked. Unfortunately for him the driver of the stolen vehicle this show had been put on for decided to try to barge through the block by smashing between the vehicles in the emergency lane and lane one. Happily nobody was injured and so he still has his partner and children, but his ute is currently un-driveable and he’s waiting to find out if it can even be repaired. Since he’s an electrician and that’s his work vehicle and had his tools on board that means he’s currently unable to work as well, though no doubt that’s a lesser consideration than being ordered by police to put himself and his family in the way of a fucknuts car thief with his foot on the floor.
ABC Melbourne Radio: Did you think you were put at risk?
David Rendina: Yes, of course.
ABC: In order to catch a… a driver of a stolen car.
ABC: Do you think it’s worth it?
DR: Not at all.
ABC: Do you think it was worth putting your kids and you at risk to catch a kid with a stolen car?
DR: No way. Erm, I think if I was asked to do that or given an option my answer would be no.
ABC: Were you given an option?
774 ABC Melbourne radio interview (mp3 here, approx. 20 minutes long)
Let’s reiterate that this was a pursuit that had already been begun and called off after just a few minutes and left to the air wing to follow from high up because of the risk to other road users, and while I’m prepared to believe the Assistant Commissioner talking later on that recording that the decision was made to stop the idiot because he was still driving like a twat even after the police stopped chasing I find it really difficult to believe that the only option open to getting him stopped and nicked was to put a load of people in his way, wait for him to crash into them, and then haul him out and slap the cuffs on. Victoria Police has a budget of some $2 billion, which among other things buys and runs lots of police vehicles, some of which could perhaps have been used to hare down the Hume warning people to get off as soon as possible (there are four exits in the 15km or so north of where the roadblock was ordered) while others, if allowing the suspect to crash into cars was absolutely necessary, could have been put in his way instead of vehicles belonging to members of the public. Yes, I know they’re expensive and wrecking them costs taxpayers money, but Vic Police is on the hook for compensating those people whose cars were wrecked and whose children are having nightmares. And where’s the money for that going to come from? Yep, you got it.
A review has been ordered, but for Christ’s sake, Vic Police, Benalla is the best part of 200 kilometres away from where the roadblock was made. You say you had eyes on him from the air the whole time, and even at the speeds the moron was doing it gave you over an hour or so to come up with a better plan than ‘Oooh, I know, let’s just stop all the traffic and wait right here for him.’ You cannot have it both ways – either the police and public are one, in which case there’s a discussion to be had about the seemingly widening gap between the two, or they are not, in which case you’ve got no goddamn business putting anyone’s arses on the line but your own. In either case you’ve sure as hell got no right putting kids at risk. The public in Tottenham a century ago may have lent their property and even voluntarily mucked in, but that was in a time where the public could have things the police didn’t rather than the other way round, and I expect that even the very keenest to help would have been pretty reticent to let the bobbies borrow their kids to use in lieu of bullet proof jackets.
ABC Melbourne radio: Would you order your family to park at the back of a road block and wait to be hit by a speeding car?
Asst. Commissioner Fontana: No I wouldn’t.
* You probably can get plain handcuffs if your tastes run that way. Sometimes there are avenues of research I’m just not going to go down for a blog post.
** Interestingly the history of the Tottenham Outrage that appears on the Met’s website makes no mention of the part where police borrowed firearms from passersby or armed members of the public joining the pursuit, though it’s mentioned in at least one other place. Draw your own conclusions.