Qui custodiet ipsos custodes

A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing my latest book, Bethulia. It’s a book in which, just for once, I feature a police investigation, and the opening sequence of that section portrays a young female police detective being treated disparagingly by a male senior officer, who exhibits decidedly misogynistic and racist tendencies.

I belong to a writing groups, and when I offered up an early version of this chapter to them for criticism, they suggested that it was all too much of a cliché, and that police just weren’t allowed to behave like that any more. I didn’t want to make my DS Gray any less obnoxious but I did make changes to suggest that he was on the point of retirement and using the opportunity to be objectionable, but that he was a painful exception in his attitudes. Because, of course, my fellow writers were quite right: the police aren’t allowed to be like that any more.

Oh dear.

It turns out the police are like that, and have been getting away with far worse, to the point where it’s been accepted as the norm.

There is a systemic problem with the police that it’s difficult to know how to get around. Police wear uniform, they carry weapons (ok baton and tasers, rather than guns), and they are entitled to use them. They have been given official authority to use force, to detain and imprison, to give orders and assert control over people who will be committing an offence if they resist. I’m sure there are many police officers who took on the work because they want to create a safe and secure society where ordinary people can get on with their lives without unnecessary harassment, fear or grief. But the very nature of the job means that it is bound to attract the sort of people who get off on being allowed to bully, push, abuse and control others. The sort of people who automatically have an unsympathetic, if not actively hostile, attitude to anyone not in their testosterone-fuelled tribe.

Right now, officers in the Met are being diverted from other matters to go over old complaints and suspect vettings, in order to clean up the force. But is the vetting of prospective police officers looking for the right thing? Previous convictions? Driving offences? Maybe they are important but an in-depth  psychological evaluation would be of more value, to see which of our police out there are honourable citizens keen to protect society, or psycho control-freaks, who like their authority just that little bit too much.

There are bad apples in the police – we keep being told that, as a reassurance that most are okay. The meaning of the bad apple phrase seems to have got muddled. What it really implies that if you take a barrel of good apples, and add one bad one, all the others will turn bad too. The police have a quasi military function. Like soldiers, they have, occasionally, to meet violence, armed robbers, hostile mobs, riots, terrorists, organised crime, so they have to develop the same esprit de corps as the military. They have to be able to rely with absolute certainty on their colleagues to aid them and cover their backs. How do you stop that sense of mutual reliance transferring to the obnoxious outpourings of so-called “locker-room banter.”

Answers on a postcard, please.

In answer to criticism that my portrayal of the police was out of date, I made my racist, misogynist detective in Bethulia an exception that his fellow police officers disapproved of. I sort of wish I’d stuck to my guns now.

16 thoughts on “Qui custodiet ipsos custodes

  1. That rotten apple in the barrel is a great analogy. The Stanford Prison social experiment pointed to the same issues with giving people authority and, of course, you’re right when you say that the idea of people seeking that authority may not be the ones you really need in that job. For me, one of the most shocking stories that came out of this last lot of failures was that of a woman who’d been savagely beaten by her partner but was brushed-off by the female officers who were sent to deal with it. This may well point to your comment about depending on your fellow officers because they have your back, and also not wanting that banter to come back at you because you’d been ‘disloyal’. I’d like to think that there are plenty of people like the other detective in Bethulia who supported the new recruit. They do need to stand up and be counted now. Great post – but rather depressing…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why are the Met investigating their own officers? It’s like marking your own homework. There needs to be an outside/neutral company involved to really root out the unsuitable ones.


    1. Agreed! And a neutral company to vet applicants in the first place. We don’t really want people who are thought to fit in well with an institution that’s not right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    Met officers are being diverted from solving crimes to weed out rogue colleagues who are too fond of raping and assaulting women. This strikes me as something like marking their own homework. Can you imagine how the guilty police officers might try to bribe their way out of being discovered and sacked? Who vets the vetters? How do we know they’re not taking bribes to turn a blind eye?


  4. I worked for seventeen years as a secretary in a campus police office. Most of the time, my role was a fly on the wall. They forgot I was there. I worked with officers at the beginning of their careers. The University had a cadet program. I also worked with officers at the end of their careers. We hired retired cops to cover shifts part-time. We had female officers and minority officers. I overheard a lot of locker room talk. My biggest observation during my career is that there were officers I preferred to work with because they treated people right. The worst officer I ever worked with was a female. We could go an entire shift without her saying a word to me. Her issues centered around class and not race. There is also a lot of politics that goes on in police departments. They aren’t as solid as they appear to the outside world.


  5. Stevie, I think your gut feeling was right. Who wants to read a book about police investigations when there is no conflict with the police. Besides, I think, that we as novelists have the “power” to show what is wrong in society.
    I disagree with your writing group that police officers “no longer exhibit decidedly misogynistic and racist tendencies”.
    Follow your instincts and the facts! All the best, Stevie. ❤


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