“Jumped up little Hitlers”......how often is that phrase used to describe those with apparently minimum sense but maximum power in those limited circumstances where their power is supreme? They are evident at railway booking offices undermanned but overwhelmed by commuters who are unable to buy tickets on board their train. They are evident in hospitals where refusal to switch off a mobile phone in a waiting area where there are no signs to do so can lead to a uniformed LH exercising his authority to remove trouble makers and where a raised voice in protest can lead to a real authority figure being called. They are evident in our towns and villages where parking has long been contested between local authority and common sense justice. In the courts they are evidenced on occasion by truant officers or whatever nomenclature they now assume when assessing a parent`s lack of control insofar as school attendance is concerned. On the streets so called police community support officers are perhaps the epitome of the pile it high sell it cheap uniformed LHs with which unfortunately we have had to become familiar. There is a law of inverse proportionality....the greater the number the less the effect and so it is with uniformed authority.
Once upon a time there were policemen, park rangers, transport conductors and inspectors in uniform. Each group used its authority as prescribed and generally earned the respect of the society employing them. In the space of a single generation and umpteen changes of titles there has been an explosion of uniformed figures exercising authority in various limited circumstances to such a degree that overall respect for any in authority is at an all time low. This change in public attitudes was as predictable as night follows day. One would have thought that those at the top of the various political trees would take cognisance of these attitudes but instead they behave like the monkeys they are……chattering excitedly in their family groups taking the lead from the boldest and loudest amongst them.
To its credit the Magistrates` Association has long complained that Fixed Penalty Notices offered by Police to offenders except in the most carefully controlled circumstances were unhealthy options to contain offending. They were talking to the wind. ACPO with government backing oversaw the almost exponential expansion of cautions for repeat offenders including those previously convicted of violence. It is only in recent months that there is discussion to put a brake on such out of court disposals.
It was therefore disturbing to read that the government is considering extending on the spot justice to private security guards employed in hospitals. In a society where currently the mantra of “cuts are necessary”, “we are all in it together”, “we have to live within our means” and many other headline slogans seem to be the wherewithal and guiding light for ministers, to further dilute the responsibility for law and order is a further sign of the accelerating segmentation of our country into umpteen groupings depending on circumstances. It increases a “them and us” mentality.
I have visited many courtrooms in English speaking foreign countries. They were all staffed with armed police officers for security. What do we have? SERCO, GROUP 4 or similar companies clocking off at 5.00pm even when there might be custody cases to be taken to prison or refusing to service all three security courtrooms owing to lack of staff. Even in today`s news the headline was of the Border Agency`s inability to provide sufficient staff at Heathrow to progress travellers in a reasonable time. All these fragmented services of the Home Office, Justice Ministry and local authorities serve to weaken respect for our institutions not enhance it and lack of respect in all its guises is a root cause of much discontent at all levels and ages.