So, imagine this: you're sitting quietly in a pub one afternoon, perhaps reading the paper or having a spot of lunch, when suddenly you feel this almighty thud across the back of your skull. Thwack! All the lights go out and it's goodnight Vienna. Next thing you know, you're sitting in a police car by the side of the M5, eating chips out of a bag and listening to the football on the radio. Sound unlikely? Well that's exactly what happened last year to an increasing number unsuspecting civilians throughout the UK who found themselves press-ganged into joining the police force.
Of course, the police haven't always taken such a proactive approach to enlistment. They have always been able to rely on certain groups within society to produce suitably eager recruits. For instance, the socially or intellectually inept are traditionally enticed into the force by the prospect of exercising the kind of authority that they would be too effete and ineffectual to wield in civilian life. The criminal fraternity are also attracted to the profession, as it offers countless opportunities for extortion, blackmail and fraud without the attendant risks of being on the 'wrong side' of the law. Then there's the boots and the shiny helmets - the very thing for the insecure neo-Nazi who wishes to compensate for his lack of identity by immersing himself within a paramilitary organisation. And let us not forget that the police can also offer opportunities for the many witless retards who are much too slow to secure useful employment in real jobs.
Nevertheless, recruitment is still a problem for the police, and there remains a good measure of concern amongst Chief Constables, who feel seriously disadvantaged by the fact that they are still considerably outnumbered by the general public. This is why it was decided to charge Chief Inspector Roland Dolt with the task of reviewing and co-ordinating the police force's national recruitment strategy. We were recently fortunate enough to be invited to his headquarters, where we had the opportunity to talk to him about his radical new initiative.
"There is no doubt about it," he proclaims with the self-assured swagger of a man who can have you done over with the snap of his fingers. "The press-gang is both a more effective and more economical method of encouraging youngsters to join the police force." The Chief Inspector cracks his knuckles in a way that suggests he's daring us to contradict him. He seems disappointed when we don't. "Oh, I know there's a lot of liberal, namby-pamby bleeding hearts who oppose such methods," he continues in a low snarl. "And I'm prepared to lend a sympathetic ear to their complaints, of course I am - but these people ultimately have no influence over us. We could have 'em any day. After all, we're the bastard police, and we've got a job to do. Fair enough, there are a few differences of opinion about what that job is, but that's not going to stop us doing it. Oh no, I should say not. No chance. Not one bit of it. And you can quote me on that, oh yes..."
The Chief Inspector looks momentarily confused and we have to remind him what he was talking about. "Press-gangs!" he blurts out. "Yes, very good, I'll make a note of it." He takes out his diary and scribbles furtively before continuing. "You see, the problem is, we simply can't afford to bugger about. We're understaffed as it is, and we're unlikely to win the battle against spiralling crime rates unless we do something radical. And the fact of the matter is that since the introduction of the press-gangs there has been a three hundred percent rise in the numbers of new recruits entering the police service. It's a damn sight better than the way we used to go about it."
The way that they used to go about it was decidedly less confrontational. Throughout the eighties and nineties, professional advertising agencies were employed to 'sell' the police force. So what, according to the advertising campaigns, would a prospective police officer come to expect? Well at 'cadet school', young officers would be able to learn new skills, such as advanced driving, forensics and rope climbing. They would receive intensive tuition on the most effective way of swinging truncheons, extracting confessions or breaking ribs. And for those who were interested, there would be inter-divisional netball tournaments, orienteering expeditions and after-hours buggery. They even offered a short course in dog handling, for those cadets whose sexual preferences tended towards the more exotic.
The cadet schools, so the recruitment posters told us, boasted excellent catering facilities, and their canteens provided the best jam roly poly in the world. What's more, on Friday afternoons cadets were excused uniforms and could take in their own games. On special days they were even allowed to play in the police helicopter.
But the one thing that previous campaigns have stressed more than anything are the many opportunities that life in the police service can deliver. Opportunities, for instance, like helping yourself to stolen electrical goods that have been impounded after raids. Opportunities for tearing up and down motorways like a mental, and getting off Scot free just by flashing your warrant card. And of course, the opportunity to harass and intimidate law abiding members of the public just because you feel like it. But, as Chief Inspector Dolt points out, that approach belongs firmly in the past.
"Fluff!" he says suddenly, stabbing his pencil wildly through the air like a blind man fishing for eyeballs. "Fluff and mollycoddle, that's all those recruitment drives amounted to," he continues to rant. "I said to 'em when they gave me this job - I told 'em straight - I said, if we're going to get anywhere then we need to get out there and kick a few arses, and slap a few heads. Well someone's got to do it, haven't they? People won't beat themselves up. People won't issue themselves with speeding tickets. Someone's got to hang around 24-hour petrol stations, reading slap mags and helping themselves to Mars bars and toffee crisps."
He pauses to take a breath. There are a number of questions we would like to put to the Chief Inspector, and this would seem like the ideal opportunity. But he looks at us keenly through the narrowed slits of his eyes, and we decide that it would be prudent to allow him to continue his rant.
"And then, of course, there's your actual crime," he says, seemingly as an afterthought. "Did you know that it's the police force's responsibility to deal with crime? Oh yes, it is - as if we don't have enough to do! People come up to me and say, 'Oy, Chief Inspector', they say, 'What are you going to do about the soaring crime rate?' And do you know what my response is? I'll tell you - I knee them in the stomach. Then a swift uppercut to the chin soon sorts them out. These people are troublemakers, you see. These whinging little bleeders are causing unrest and undermining my authority, and I'm afraid we can't have that, now can we? Yes, we do have a crime problem, but for God's sake let's not keep going on about it."
We nod in agreement. The Chief Inspector is becoming more excitable now, and we're agreed that it would be wise not to provoke him. Actually, the wisest course of action would seem to be terminating the interview at this point, and so we rise and thank him for his valuable time. He's still talking at us as we awkwardly back out of the room.
"People say to me, 'Crime isn't going to go away just because you ignore it.'" he calls after us. "Well what I say to them is: have you tried ignoring it? Because if you haven't actually tried ignoring it, then you're in no position to say whether it goes away or not. So, in my opinion, we should just try our best to ignore it and then see what happens. Then the police can be free to get on with what they do best... whatever that is. Issuing speeding tickets, probably. Yes, yes, we're quite good at that. Don't you think? Hello? Going so soon...?"
And then we're gone. Once outside we find that our car tyres have been slashed, the windscreen's been caved in and the stereo is missing. There are a group of policemen hanging around outside, but apparently they didn't see anything. Never mind. There's a tube station not far from here, and the walk will do us good. We set off, trying hard to ignore the constable trailing several paces behind us, casually swinging the cosh.
Wrexham seeks Chip Control Warden.
Quick Rod Stewart and Enya...
All that stuff you saw at Mission Control was just for show
Punching singers in the mouth
Turn that frown upside down
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