The Criminal Society
By COLIN MACINNES plunder or with crime THERE are criminals, law-enforcement officers and the community they protect. Does the cause of our ills lie in these groups directly involved or in society itself?
A man is attracted to police work because it gives status in a community where most influen- tial jobs are still manned by a middle class to Which he does not usually belong. He joins a light-knit inner group that offers solidarity and knows how to protect its own. By inclination and professional necessity this body is secretive, and secrecy itself appeals to many temperaments. The strongest inducement is that in immediate human terms few men are, from the outset of their careers, as powerful as policemen: Uniform and pay were always secondary considerations, since the elite of the force work in plain clothes and, until recently, wages were grotesquely low. Some of the perils of his life are obvious. The physical risk, in most areas of our cities, is real and constant. Alone, in dark hostile streets, they may jump on his back at any moment; and though his colleagues can be relied °n if they arrive in time, no sure help can be expected from the public. So he must be brave, vigilant and wary: especially if in uniform, when the enemy knows him, not he them.
Of the moral dangers to himself, he may be less aware. The legend of his being 'a citizen like any other' is meaningless: no citizen—not even those who most approve of him—treats him as if he were. This leads to a constant sense °f social Timeliness; for such is the public re- Serve in every class towards him—whether openly expressed or deferentially disguised—that 4 Policeman is in effect a member of an occupy- ing force, and this isolation binds him all the faster to it.
The higher he rises in his job, the more he well meet situations in which perjury, violence and bribery become possibilities. It is hard to discuss this trio of temptations without frantic denials from police public-relations officers and frenzied ones among us, or equally frenzied affirmations by copper-haters and per- sons who declare they have been wronged. Yet even without adducing known or alleged ex- amples, reason alone will tell us these things necur. And to realise they must happen is a first necessity for understanding what the real Problems of police work are, why criminal trials are not always what they seem, and what the public responsibility must ultimately be.
To swear on the Bible in a court is for most citizens—even for a liar—a solemn matter. As well as the danger of a subsequent charge of Perjury, there will be the feeling that, in a court law, to lie is wrong. But no citizen—not even 4 habitual criminal—has to swear so often on the book as does a policeman: it can happen every week of his working life. There is no doubt he swears usually in good faith. But sup. pose he is sure of the defendant's guilt, yet doubts if the known evidence suffices for con- viction? Or if a superior officer tells him the prosecution is to be presented this way, and tt,°f, that? Or if a colleague swears what he knows to be untrue and he is then called to confirm it in the box? Suppose he is just not sure what happened or what was said, but knows which part of his recollection will best serve the prosecution? Confronted daily with these dilemmas as a matter of professional routine, which will he be more likely to violate: his profound instinct to secure conviction or an oath that has become an incantation?
Among those who know that police evidence cannot always conform to strict reality, the argu- ment advanced to defend loaded evidence is this. The police rarely bring a charge unless con- vinced the accused is guilty; but, knowledge and legal proof of guilt not being identical, the evi- dence must be adapted to what is known about the suspect if enough convictions to protect society are to be secured. Considered from the police standpoint, one can see how sensible this argument must seem. The public want crime suppressed—they have chosen us to suppress it —we know, without malice, this man did the job—he's too crafty to give us all the evidence we need—so what are we supposed to do? What would you do in our position?
Violence. Until middle-class people became directly and frequently involved with the police through motoring offences—and, of more recent years, by criminal acts with a political motiva- tion—allegations by them of police violence were rare. Indeed, the contrary was held as dogma: our men in blue, who protect our property and lives, are not as those in other countries who use force. And because they had never seen, at the remand-room of a court in a rough area, an officer confronting the assembled prisoners with a gun, they believed he never had such weapons. A truncheon, yes; but that wasn't used for cracking bourgeois skulls.
Among working-class people, this convention of police docility has always aroused tolerant scepticism and amusement; but since all organs of public comment were controlled by the middle classes, no interest was taken in these proletarian attitudes. With criminals themselves, police violence is taken so utterly for granted as scarcely to constitute a 'protest.'
But how can the police possibly avoid vio- lence? You're arrested, hit back—what must happen when you reach the station? Your blacked eyes are explained to the magistrate (if he asks) by the hallowed formula, 'He went berserk and had to. be restrained.' (Of course, sometimes you do go berserk.) Or supposing they're sure you've done it, three of them question you till one a.m. and you still 'don't want to co-operate' . . . what then? And if they're sent to pick up a suspect gunman, won't they be mad not to take a gun?
Some working-class worlds, and certainly the criminal world, are wild. The copper moves among the danger-points of each and he would not be human if, once hidden within the four walls of his station—and even at times outside them-7he didn't sometimes retaliate or provoke violence himself. But between a sock in the jaw (or neck from behind, as once happened to me) and a deliberate mental or physical sadism there is a very great difference indeed. And my belief is that so long as the inane middle-class convention subsists that violence never happens (except maybe in self-defence), then behind this smoke-screen of self-induced ignorance real sadism is much more probable.
Bribery is certainly less osual than the others. To accept bribes, at any rate on a massive scale, violates the officers' own code in a way violence and loaded evidence do not; and while public accusations of violence and perjury are almost impossible to prove, that of bribery sometimes can be, making it doubly dangerous. Besides, as with men in so many professions, power means more than money, and makes up for the lack of it. Even so, in CID work among persons far richer than the officer, this power becomes so huge in relation to their need for his help or silence that the likelihood of bribes being offered is extreme. And which of us, earning what a detective constable does, and knowing where the tempter's 'easy money' conies from, would unfailingly decline his offer?
Though these more familiar items may disturb the public's mind when they think of coppers (that is, if they think what police problems are at all), there exist even greater moral dangers of which the public—and perhaps the police— remain unaware. To exercise power delights most temperaments and corrupts all but the best. But often this power seems muted because it appears impersonal—the man who wields it may not see its direct effects on hundreds of fellow creatures. But a copper does see this and sees it constantly. In this sense a policeman's power is greater than a Prime Minister's and more perilous to his soul.
His intimate-contact with criminals must also be equivocal in its effects on him. The world in which police and criminals operate is a closed one: they alone function in it, even if as oppo- nents, and in relation to this criminal zone all other citizens are outsiders. In a real sense, though he is the criminal's deadliest enemy, the copper is closer to him in spirit than he is to the respectable. To hunt, you must know the habits of the hunted and adopt some of their techniques. Between criminal and copper there must be psychological interpenetration: each must think what the other is thinking before he can act or frustrate his rival's actions. But if you dream daily of criminality, the danger increases that your own mind will become criminal: not in fact—only in imagination; but evil is born of imagination.
It is also apparent that society, by its in- souciance, has divested itself of a moral responsibility and unloaded it on to the police. Society doesn't want to know about criminals, but it does want them put away, and it is incurious how this can be done provided it is. Thus society, in giving the policeman power and wishing to ignore what his techniques must be, has made over to him part of its own con- science. For us all, he must make heavy choices. To make them and remain honourable cannot be easy.
A saint may cure a criminal, but he will never catch him. And if society wants him caught, it Must realise how much harder it is for a copper 'o be a good man,as well as a good professional than for any other citizen in the land. I think it impossible for police officers to do the work ,ociety has set them without dire temptations 0 the spirit. And if they yield to these, society las no right to blame them. It has willed the ,:nd and must take its responsibility for the means.