Nobody on the front line

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We had a village policeman in the old days, not far from here. A policeman who covered two villages, but still managed to know everyone by name or reputation. If he caught a young lad vandalizing or thieving, he’d take him into the pub car park or behind the cricket pavilion and thump him a couple of times – usually a lesson well learnt,  one young tearaway not sent to prison to become a qualified full-time criminal.

That sort of “discretion” is of course no longer permitted. The very idea is anathema. But thirty years ago the indiscretion would never have been “reported”. Unless the good cop was a bad cop.

The best of policing always used to be – “Ask the bobby up the street; he’ll help you out”.

The worst of policing now is:  “Sorry luv, the cops don’t come here anymore” – not a ‘no-go-area’ established by any kind of threat: the police have gone missing because there’s not enough money to pay for them. These days the local bobby is almost unheard of in rural England.

Central government has for the last five years delegated the worst of public-spending cuts to county and district levels – local governments that in so many ways establish our quality of life.

Our regular policing problems in Rye are not unusual – shop-lifting; drug-dealing in the car parks; occasional trouble at the night club; drunken wedding guests misbehaving around the citadel; the normal percentage of road traffic accidents and “domestics”. Plus, unfortunately, an abnormal problem of illegal parking, exacerbated by Rother’s refusal to decriminalize car parking and allow a system of fines issued by a warden (if you ever overstay your welcome in Tenterden, you quickly discover that Ashford Borough Council decriminalized parking long ago – the result, dreaded traffic wardens yes, but also a much more civilized town environment).

We are now told that yet more London-imposed cuts are expected, so Rye waits for our police station to be definitively shut down. A “blue lamp” presence on the street will become ever rarer, however much excellent work is done by the Police Community Support Officers – though their powers and possibilities are necessarily limited. How far and for how long will our Conservative District and County councils will be forced to damage the lives of their constituents, without meaningful protest to their own central Conservative government? They do after all represent local communities.

(You may wonder what happened to our village policeman all those years ago? Well, he made himself a small fortune with well-paid compulsory overtime, being regularly bussed up and down the motorways to and from the picket lines in Durham and Yorkshire during the coal strike. Then, a little shamefaced, he bought himself a house on the Costa del Sol and disappeared!)

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