Who do our police actually work for?

fiona carty, kettlemag, police, dublin, gardai
Written by admin

Despite what is shown on the TV and reported in the news, the police do not spend their time chasing criminals, arresting protestors and covering up their own crimes.

For years people have debated if the police are a public service or a government force. A lot of the work they do does not actually utilise their power to enforce the law, there are very few situations to which they will not be called, yet they are regularly associated with abuse of power and violence. The confusion over their role and the job that they do does not help when it comes to the public’s perception. TV shows present the police as spending most of their time solving serious crimes when that is only a small part of what they do. Being restricted by the rules they must enforce, it can seem to some people that they are not as effective as they could be.

Damned if they do…

I spent three years working as a cleaner for the police, so I have both an insider and outsider viewpoint. Basically, the police are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Constantly blamed for the messes they are called to clean up, even they question the job they do some days. The recent comments about drunks being arrested in A&E departments if they should become abusive is a classic example of this. Instead of calling for more action to deal with binge drinking, or taking into account that very drunk people may need constant observation in the custody suite and may need to go back to the hospital anyway (taking up even more resources) the police are expected to arrest and detain.

Damned if they don’t…

Detaining people is not the answer, in a climate when public services are having their budgets cut, we should not be asking those services to take on extra work with fewer resources and to keep the high standards that are expected of them. It will cause problems within the services and breed distrust and dissatisfaction from the public, leading to a possible privatisation that will not be working for the public first. Another problem for the police is that people struggle to see beyond the uniform, instead of seeing another person they see a force of authority that acts in accordance with the law.

Dr Suzella Palmer, a Criminology Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Bedfordshire explained these feelings could come from people who encounter the police through organised events such as the student marches against tuition fees. Even if they have had only good encounters with the police on previous occasions, they may change their views in an ‘us and them’ capacity, and it is here where people may see the police as a force of state power.

Have they lost our trust?

However there are groups who have mostly negative encounters with the police, such as black males or white ‘underclass’ males, are statistically more likely to be stopped by the police and searched. This is fact and this is also profiling and is wrong. In contrast, the public opinion of the fire or ambulance service is different, they have greater support and this stems from the fact that while all of the emergency services are there to help when needed, the police also have to perform duties that may not be seen to benefit the public.

All emergency workers are hired to assist anyone who needs help at any given time, so the question of who they work for is a difficult one especially in the case of the police. Maybe we should not be asking who they work for, but what happened to raise the questions in the first place.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.