Artillery Row

Schrodinger’s shield

In the hands of the police it’s a symbol of love — Anyone else will be arrested

Anyone familiar with Seventies television will recall Regan and Carter throwing bad guys over the bonnet of a Ford Consul GT and telling them, “We’re The Sweeney, son, and we haven’t had any dinner. You’ve kept us waiting, so unless you want a kicking you tell us where those photographs are.” Before the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill spoiled it all in 1984, you could get away with that sort of thing, particularly if you were The Sweeney. Sweeney Todd, Flying Squad. Hardest bastards on the force.

Today’s Flying Squad have real wings

Last week, Leicestershire Constabulary unveiled its own version of The Flying Squad as its officers took to the streets wearing fluffy fairy wings, possibly sourced from the Knotty Ash shop that supplied Ken Dodd with his tickling stick. Should this crack squad of Tinkerbells unforeseeably prove ineffective, then Leicestershire’s elite tactical support unit is poised with riot shields adorned with the latest heraldry. The shields are easy to spot. In place of the traditional, transparent 4mm thick polycarbonate, designed so that the copper behind the shield is visible, the new riot shields are wrapped in the colours of the trans flag and offer no such transparency. If nothing else, the change is a chillingly effective metaphor.

Surprisingly, one must look West to sleepy Cheshire to locate the epicentre of lunacy, for it is there that National Police Chief’s Council member, Julie Cook, translates her hallucinogenic visions into practice. Take the recent addition of rainbow cars to the crusading Toy Town fleet. Having drunk her special tea, Cook imagines that the bigot, prowling the streets of Wilmslow in search of transphobic action, will happen upon one of her brightly painted evangelicars and undergo a Damascene conversion, whereupon said villain will denounce his cis privilege and embrace his hidden Gender Floret. In reality, of course, whilst the cops are deploying stretchy balloons and street art in the fight against imagined slights, the bigot will be jacking up the car and half inching the rainbow hubs.

Following an exhaustive five minute investigation, Leicestershire concluded its officers were pure of heart

Having ineffectively challenged Cook in the Summer, Fair Cop last week turned its attention to Leicester, formally reporting the deployment of the politically charged riot shields as a Non Crime Hate Incident. Surprisingly, an officer called to confirm that, in accordance with Approved Police Practice, the incident had indeed been recorded as an NCHI, although not against any individually identified officers. The reason given for this abrupt departure from policy was that, following an exhaustive five minute investigation, Leicestershire had concluded that its officers were entirely pure of heart.

This rankles more than a little as standard practice is to name and shame. For instance, because I once sardonically tweeted that my fondness for Sarah Brightman makes me gender fluid, the police have argued in open court that I must be excluded from certain categories of employment for the next six years. So, even though I am a former police officer without so much as a speeding ticket to my name, an application to serve as a lollipop man would be turned down on the grounds that I may kick a trans child under a bus. The police can take no chances.

The entire rationale for recording NCHIs is to facilitate intervention, thereby nipping poor behaviour in the bud. By recording the complaint, Leicestershire Constabulary has acknowledged that the riot shield constitutes a symbol of recordable hostility. However, in a further departure from policy, it also states that it will not modify its behaviour in any way and that the politically contentious riot shields will be back on public display at the next available opportunity. In other words, it is hate… but it is the right kind of hate. Or, as North Yorkshire Police tweeted last week: “It’s not wrong if it comes from a good place.

Wikipedia describes a riot shield as a tactical weapon of defence. Following the Kill The Bill riots in Bristol, a Superintendent from Somerset and Avon described shield strikes as a legitimate deployment of police weaponry. Leicestershire police, however, reject any suggestion that a riot shield is a weapon.

Carried by a cop whose heart is sweeter than the icing on a fairy cake, the riot shield is a powerful symbol of love

“Great,” I said. “So, if I get a riot shield and paint it in the colours of the Suffragettes and march with it through Leicester City Centre, that will be fine, will it?”

“No”, said the officer. “That would be a public order offence. You cannot march a politically provocative riot shield through the streets of Leicester.”

“Why not?” I asked. “You told me it’s not a weapon.”

“It’s not. However, I can tell from this phone call that you are motivated by antagonism. That would make the shield a weapon. We cannot allow a member of the public onto the streets with a weapon.”

To summarise the sophistry: Carried by a cop whose heart is sweeter than the icing on a fairy cake, the riot shield is a powerful symbol of love. However, in the hands of a dark hearted member of the public with a history of comparing themselves to Sarah Brightman, it becomes a dangerous symbol of violence.  Anyway, suitably chastised, Fair Cop went out and bought some genuine police riot shields in preparation for my forthcoming appearance at The Royal Courts of Justice. Today, they are at the paint shop. Perhaps it’s time for Sweeney Todd to stock up on Jelly Babies and get the Ford Consul fired up.

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