It is another glorious day today, one of the two or three hottest days of the year so far, with brilliant sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky. It is the sort of day one dreams about in those long winter months that are made bearable only by the distant promise of days such as this.
So what am I doing on this classic summer day? Am I reclining with family and friends under our sunshades around the pool, surrounded by the sounds of birds singing, of the chink of ice cubes against long glasses and the distant laughter of children playing?
Don’t be silly! I am painting the kitchen! That’s what I am doing. I ask you, painting the kitchen on a day such as this. There should be a law against it.
Speaking of the law, I have long been very strongly in favour of taking lots of police officers out of their cars, and out from behind piles of paperwork on desks, and putting them back on the beat where they can get to know their local population face to face. I think this has been happening to a limited extent but limited by what exactly?
Well, we were told quite often (though not so much lately it seems) that we have the fourth largest economy in the world. Do you know what this phrase means? I’m sure I don’t but I do know what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that we can afford enough policemen and women to put them back on the beat in effective numbers. It doesn’t mean that we can afford an education system that is capable of managing exam results competently. It doesn’t mean that we can have immaculately clean hospitals and all that goes with them so that we need not fear catching an infection in hospital that is even worse than whatever caused us to be there in the first place. It doesn’t mean that when we send our armed forces to war we can provide them, from day one, with the best possible equipment of every kind and more than enough of it – and I do mean the best possible, not just the best available. I could go on… …but this is supposed to be about police officers on bicycles.
The point is we have to afford more policemen and women and if we cannot cover the ground sufficiently by deploying them on their hind legs, let’s put them, or most of them, on bicycles. When I was young they had bicycles a-plenty but their only means of communicating with other police officers prior to the invention of the Tardis, sorry, Police Telephone Box, was the old police whistle with its characteristic tone. They ought to be lethally effective on bicycles with today’s hi-tech communications. We would have to retain a lot of police motor vehicles of course but bicycles have so many advantages: First they can cover much more ground than police on foot but the officer can stop, talk to shopkeeper, householders, teenagers etc. and get to know his locals, unlike car patrols who do little or nothing from the point of view of the public other than to foster the “them and us” perceptions that the police would do well to avoid.
Secondly, their quiet approach and relatively low key appearance should enable officers to blend, when needed, far more effectively than police cars, most of which seem only slightly less conspicuous than ice cream vans, even when they are not trying to draw attention to themselves. And they can patrol wherever we cyclists are likely to go, on road or off, which will become increasingly necessary very soon as more off-road cycle routes are created in response to rising demand. The presence of uniformed police on bicycles should bring about better behaviour by road users in general, cyclists included, and should also help to boost our numbers and our safety.
I know that one police force has bought a load of bicycles recently because their budget was being squeezed by the rising fuel costs. Fine. If this is what it takes to re-educate police forces about the virtues of constables on bikes, so be it. Most of them, including chief constables, are too young to have been paying much attention the last time there were bobbies on bikes in any serious numbers.