18 JUNE 1948, Page 9

THE CHANGING POLICE cy OU never see a policeman round here

nowadays," an elderly suburban householder told me recenti,y. ,, " These wireless motor cars and things—no doubt they're all very well, but it seems to me they don't come into the picture until the criminal's done his job and gone away. If there were policemen about like there used to be, the criminals wouldn't be so daring." Fresh from half a lifetime in the police service, I felt entitled to remind him that, years ago, it used to be his complaint that you could never find a

oliceman when you wanted one.

" And you couldn't," he maintained. " The point was that you were always coming across one when you didn't want to, and if you happened to be a burglar it was most unpleasant. But respectable people looking out of their windows in these quiet roads used to like seeing the policeman's helmet pass along the top of the front garden hedge as he went by. They liked to see the man on the beat arrive ..,on a.corner when they took the dog out for a few minutes, last thing at night. It's a thing of the past. The modern idea is to let the burglar get in, and then dial ' 999' and ask him to wait while the policemen drive round in their motor car. . . . I'd like to ask you three things. What's the householder supposed to do when he can't get a telephone installed ? I've been waiting three years for mine. Then what's he supposed to do with the burglar while the police driver is finding his way to the house ? And why is it ' 999' ? You could dial ' it i ' in a fraction of the time."

• f The last one being the easiest, I told him that the figures 9 and o on the telephone dial are the only two that elicit any response with- out the insertion of a coin ; and that; of the two figures which the G.P.O. were thus able to allocate for police emergencies, 9 was chosen because it works its way round the dial a trifle quicker than o. As for the man with no telephone, what, I asked him, was the distance to the nearest public call-box ? 25o yards. No neigh- [hours with telephones ? Plenty, he said, but what would be happen- / ing while he shivered on their doorsteps in his pyjamas ? I hurried ' on to the one about detaining the burglar. You could lock him in the room where you found him (or he found you) I suggested ; keep a key handy for the purpose. You could knock him out with a brass ornament. You could engage him in a penal reform discussion while your wife ran to the call-box—but by this time I had lost his sympathy and attention.

But he had fully engaged mine. His questions, of course, expose a weakness. He might even have added that, if you happen to live in an area where the telephone exchange is "manual " and not auto- / matic, you can sometimes lift your receiver and get no reply until your burglar has reached the next county. The system will work its way to perfection, no doubt. In 1947, says the Commissioner of Polite of the Metropolis in his report just published, 77,336 of these calls were received at New Scotland Yard, an increase of more than 17,000 over 1946—which was itself a record year. The crews of wireless cars made 7,166 arrests, as compared with 5,588 in 1946. Most people who have called the police by "999" have been '` astonished at the promptness of their response ; and, as the Com- missioner says, " an immediate arrest may save hours of time that otherwise would have been taken up in investigation of the offence and detection of the offender." He mitigates his desperate shortage of men for ordinary beat-patrolling by the use of 873 motor vehicles, " 287 of them motor cycles and 114 of them cars equipped with " two- way " radio telephones.

Two-way radio telephony, enabling the car-crews to talk back as well as listen to headquarters, has had a difficult incubation. It started in 1922 but had to be dropped, partly because it interfered with ordinary broadcast reception by the public, partly because tele- graphy was thought to be speedier, more reliable, superior in range, and not so heavy on " output." The development of ultra-short- wave transmission brought it back into use, and more and more cars are now being equipped with it. (Fifty-three were added last year.) As the wireless car fleet increases, the size of patrol areas is reduced, with a consequent reduction of the time required to reach any point of call.

But the public are taking to these innovations Slowly. " It is •

intended," wrote Sir John Moylan in his book Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police as long ago as 1929, " that police patrolling in cars should be as accessible and as helpful as those on foot. To convince the public of this, some encouraging inscription such as `Stop Me And Ask One' may become necessary." It is hardly less necessary now than it was in 1929. While they still rather like being told by the foreign visitor that their policemen are wonderful, Londoners may perhaps be feeling that their mechanised police are a shade too wonderful, lacking the familiar, comfortable, deceptively- massive immobility of the street-corner stance, and chilling old affections with their peaked caps, tight chinstraps, shiny leggings and swift appearances. They are perhaps a little like the shock troops of some drably-modern, aggressive Ruritania, their arrival at the scene of a crime giving citizens the feeling that the neighbour- hood is being " occupied," that resistance is useless, and that every- one is to go quietly on with his work.

But the Commissioner is fully aware of the " preventive" functions of the walking policeman. Give me recruits, he says, and you shall have your beatsmen. " We have endeavoured to attract recruits by advertisement in the Press, the display of posters, displays at municipal and other exhibitions and in cinemas, and by enlisting the help of commanding officers in H.M. Forces. Notwithstanding all that has been done, the numbers attested have steadily fallen, and it is evident that while, in comparison, conditions of employ- ment outside remain as favourable as they are at present, the police service in London will not attract an adequate supply of suitable men. . . . Of the men who attested during 1946, 27.3 per cent. had left the Force by the end of 1947."

Why ? Mainly because the pay was too low, because there were no houses to live in, and because of " the uncongenial nature of the work." Men unavoidably living apart from their families saw no hope of a house and reunion for years to come ; and, with a few modern. exceptions, a police " section house " (a barracks for the single men and the grass widoWeis) is a cheerless, stultifying place to live in, a place of tiled walls, bare deal tables, narrow iron bed- steads, and a rather bovine social life revolving at a slouching speed round a canteen. I shoUld like to place on record, I believe for the first time, a horrible truth about police section houses. It is that if you live in one long enough you go slightly potty. The period varies, but the average is about fifteen years. I have known dozens of men who had lived thus for twenty, twenty-five and sometimes thirty years, and almost to a man they were sub-normal.

I used to think at first that it was a premature senility brought on by alcoholic celibacy, but later I learned that celibacy, at any rate, was not the mot juste. One used to hear much of the single- minded simplicity of old soldiers, accepting as representative the pert philosophers of the Barrack-Room Ballads. But little has beef' said or written about the touching puerility of old, unmarried police- men. Their private lives (so far as they could be said to have any) are a strange pattern of excessively shiny buttons, imbecile catch- phrases, grunting ineptitude on the billiard-table, corpulent artful- ness at " solo," and immense capacity for the storage of malt liquors. The younger men like them, pity them, avoid them and point them out to each other as awful examples of what " the job " can do to a man unless he marries early and gets away from it for lucid intervals. This, however, necessitates the discovery of a house or flat, and it is the present hopelessness of this quest that condemns so many men for so long to the native-settlement atmosphere of life in the section house. So they resign.

And then there is what the Commissioner calls " the uncongenial nature of the work." I imagine that there can be few occupations so exhausting, physically and mentally ; and in those cases where the exhaustion is that of an active mind, fogged and atrophied by eight hours of physical strain which never becomes physical exercise, it is complete and prostrating. The man who can reserve some part of his mind for the enjoyment of off-duty pursuits is (with some astonishing exceptions) the vegetable type whose head has been a vacuum all day, and who has roused himself only to recognise when it is time for " refreshments" or for the next relief to come on duty and his own to go off. And to many policemen it seems that the only way of escape from this incapacitating boredom is to persecute the public by a campaign of pettifogging law-enforcement, earning

the right to a few hours' sitting down in the police station and the magistrates' court. The only possible solution to this problem is, I think, so to vary the men's duties between administrative and executive work as to let them see the job whole, employing equally their physical stamina and their mental capacity. Nothing that is likely to be done about their pay will be of much avail in this dilemma ; the enticement of better men by better pay will merely intensify it.

The military experts tell us (and we are convinced, if apathetic) that the mass annihilation methods of future war will do nothing to lessen the importance of the infantryman. Police authorities are similarly aware that motor cars and wireless and infra-red photo- graphy and photo-telegraphy will not avail in the crime war without the familiar, slow-moving beatsman as the broad base of the whole organisation. They hold this view no less firmly than the puzzled householder with whom I began ; and, recruiting for the first time in police history among better-equipped competitors in a sellers' labour market, they are faring so badly that man-power has become the main theme of every Chief Constable's annual report, a central problem to which the crime wave itself is subsidiary.