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Bad arrest by the Met

October 24, 2015

I just observed an arrest at Worcester Park station. Four police officers pinned a man up against a wall for being drunk and disorderly. They repeatedly told him to shut up, and when informing him of his arrest told him that it was for being drunk and disorderly “and for being rude to my sergeant.”

Drunk and disorderly he certainly was. He was on my train and yelled like (though no worse than) a Rugby fan the whole way. Not what I would call criminal behaviour; but, nonetheless it is against the law, if you happen to be drunk at the time. All that being the case, four police officers seems a bit excessive. The use of force looked excessive too; not least because, before they yelled that they were going to arrest him, he didn’t appear to be resisting or making a break for it. In fact, as rude drunk men go, he was being quite friendly.

They led him off amid howls of fury about how they (the police in general) have been bothering him since he was about 12. I’m concerned about the way they spoke to him, as if he was dirt. We say that police officers have to put up with a lot and that criminals are criminals; but the last time I had dealings with the police, they were tremendously polite. I had rather thought, naively perhaps, that this was standard procedure – that you are not supposed to yell at people you arrest, or tell them to shut up. It’s no wonder he responded badly to them.

They may have needed to arrest him, but had they handled it more politely and sensitively, I’d guess they wouldn’t have found themselves steering a man threatening to drag them into the bins and throw himself onto the railway tracks. By announcing their arrest they had understandably distressed him, and decided to deal with this distress by applying a large amount of force, both verbally and physically.

What bothers me most about it all is this “rude to the sergeant” business. Now, I’m no expert on the law, but I’m pretty sure being rude is not illegal. If it were, most city commuters would’ve been behind bars at some point. I doubt it’s an official charge, but the officer added it to the actual charge as if it was. Again, I wouldn’t have thought that was proper procedure. A man who doesn’t know the law or understand the police – a man like the one they arrested – might walk out of that holding cell tomorrow thinking that it is in fact a crime to be “rude” to a police officer… Whatever that might mean. I doubt that will improve his relationship with the police, or the law.

I certainly hope it’s not an official rule. Assaulting an officer fetches a larger punishment because there needs to be a deterrent, in order that no one thinks they might as well fight their way out of an arrest; but at least, assault of a civilian is also against the law. Being rude isn’t. If it were a law that you can’t be rude to a police officer, that would be a gross injustice in our system. Part of being made to feel safe by law enforcement is knowing that you aren’t going to be arrested or penalised for petty personal grievances.

There has to be a process, by which the safety, freedom and rights of citizens take precedence over the pride of the police officers. If the law were ever to get to a point where it allowed police officers to sanction citizens for being treated the way regular citizens have to put up with every day, we would be living under a system that gave the police too much power – the power to make arbitrary judgements or to settle personal scores on the beat. What with other similar instances of police force and attitudes, and the armed police walking brazenly around Waterloo station, I’m starting to feel a bit edgy about the direction of the Met.

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