When I lived in
I once saw a student demo. The learned young things marched through most of the historic areas of the eternal city and shouted, waved banners and sang. They had an opinion and had a democratic right to express it. I believe the subject of their discontentment was cuts to student funding, a common theme in this 21st century world of further education and “loaning your arse off”. Rome
Either side of the roads (where thousands of students marched) were steel barriers and/ or armed police. In areas where history had placed its footprint on the architecture, the police presence was heavy. They didn’t smile, they were nearly all in riot gear and they looked ready to act at a second’s notice.
At the head of the student march were a large group of cops, leading the way. At the rear were yet more armed police, but these also had a couple of tanks with them.
The whole operation sent the unspoken message “march and protest, that’s your right BUT if you take the piss you WILL be sorry!”
I did Krav Maga for a few months and the instructor was a bull necked, bald, power house of a guy in his late 40s who also worked as a Superintendente (UK Inspector,
Lieutenant) in the State Police. He found out I used to be a cop and was amazed and appalled at the unarmed and largely impotent (not to mention dangerous) methods that British Bobbies employ to deal with violent people. US
He told me that while Italian police cannot fire a gun at someone unless first fired upon (I like to assume they are all trained in Matrix-esque, “bullet time” limbo dancing) they ARE taught to strike to the knees and elbows with their batons. Reason being that it hurts like a bitch and criminals wanting to have a row, even drunken ones, will fall like a stack of cards in the wind if you crack them even lightly in the kneecap.
I once chatted to a VERY cute female cop in a clothes shop in
who remained polite, smiled a lot and was intensely shaggable but kept her professional face on the entire time. While friendly she kept a demeanour of professionalism and did not once lapse into that irritating “I’m sorry that I’m a copper, how are you feeling Sir/ Madam and do you feel oppressed by my existence?” stuff that Bobbies in my era were actively forced to do with the public. Rome
the cops are hated by some, reviled by others but respected by most. NOT for their crime solving ability or their powers of detection but as a body of people that you absolutely do not take the piss out of or vent your spleen at verbally without fear of recrimination (unlike England and a recent Crown Prosecution Service decision to NOT run with S.5, Public Order Act charges against people for swearing at police officers as cops should have the resilience to be called “cunts” without being upset about it). Italy
When Italian cops turn up, people do as they say. The public do not poke fun at them, they do not shout abuse at them, they do not demand to know why you are nicking their friend/ husband/ son when you didn’t do anything about that rape case/ burglary/ nasty Facebook message from 3 years ago. Italians know that if they thump a copper in anger then they will immediately be forcefully detained and will usually get a dig or two in the ear for “resisting arrest”.
Italian cops of all 3 main forces (Polizia, Finanzia and Carabinieri) control the people in public order situations and do not tolerate ANY provocation or abuse, be it verbal or physical.
Which brings me back to Simon Harwood. A Constable in the Met who shoved Ian Tomlinson at 2010’s G20 demonstration in
Pilloried and vilified in the Press, Simon now faces a manslaughter charge for the fact that Tomlinson died 20-ish minutes later of a heart attack. He faces this because his shove was potentially illegal and in English law, any illegal act that results in death is an automatic manslaughter charge.
Simon was provoked way past reasonable levels. His patience was worn thin and in the circumstances (if the video evidence is to be believed) was relatively restrained in dealing with a passive/ aggressive, provocative, drunken arsehole who had been obstructing the police for most of the day (photos and eye witness accounts of him gleefully blocking riot vans in the Charles Dickens-style narrow streets of The City of London).
When riot police moved into an area with dogs and attempted to clear it, Tomlinson was the last to leave and either thought it was funny or just liked winding up “the filth” by taking the piss out of them.
Harwood’s shove was no more violent than kids´ behaviour in playgrounds up and down the UK (we’ll forget the baton strike to the leg, it obviously didn’t hurt as Tomlinson didn’t reach for the “wound” after he sat on the floor like a little girl acting as if the whole thing was unprovoked). Tomlinson was over 50, fat, drunk and homeless as well as an alcoholic. Any sudden movement may have caused his death and it is worth noting that it was 20 minutes AFTER the shove that he collapsed and died of a heart attack.
When I trained for the police we had ABSOLUTELY NO training on how to deal with the psychological effects of prolonged exposure to confrontation, physical danger or violence (or a mixture of all 3 simultaneously). We were given training on how to use physical force that erred on the side of “the Chief Constable not getting sued” i.e. we were not told to punch, merely to shove and that the baton could only be used on the upper thighs or upper arms NEVER to the face or head…regardless of the danger level the officer was facing.
We spent a ludicrous and insulting amount of time on Race and Diversity training (6 weeks) compared to one hour on use of pepper spray and four hours on use of our batons.
Read the above sentence to yourself again SLOWLY.
some people think cops are fair game for verbal abuse. A smaller few think it’s ok to actually physically assault officers with bricks, Molotov cocktails and bits of the furniture from McDonalds. Then you have nasty little gobshites like Jody McIntyre who deliberately bait and goad cops (he is able bodied but uses a wheelchair on demonstrations and then tries to sue/ get officers sacked for dragging him out of it when he obstructs traffic). UK
For reasons that as long as my arse looks south, I will NEVER understand,
cops are put in the middle of large groups of potentially confrontational people armed only with a little metal stick and a tin of savoury spice. In the first Twilight movie, Bella Swann is 17 yet gets given a big, fuck-off tin of Bear Mace by her Sheriff father after nearly being raped. When I was a cop CS and Pava spray were “class 5 firearms” and if you needed to leave the station with it while off duty you had to get the WRITTEN permission of a Sergeant or above. UK
British Bobbies are put amongst people who could do them harm and told to rely on their verbal communication skills to reason with everyone from little old ladies to angry, masked looters and rioters. Again, there is NO training on how to deal with the emotional fallout of prolonged exposure to both physical danger and verbal abuse. Cops are assumed to have a resilience above and beyond that of the average Joe or Josephine even though they are just normal people before they join up. No one tells them how to deal with being spat on, getting piss hurled in their faces or watching a fellow officer go down to a brick in the head (while the people who threw it whoop ecstatically that they have “knocked out a pig”). They are expected to remain calm at all times and, like The Terminator in the Arnie movies, use only the absolute minimum and appropriate amount of physical force needed to subdue a violent bastard wielding a machete.
When I did “angry man” training (facing a big bloke in a padded suit while I was holding a rubber baton) I was informed that I had hit the “suspect” two extra times while he was on his knees…technically an assault. When I pointed out that he’d punched me in the face twice and ignored orders to stand still the examiner said “doesn’t matter. At that point he wasn’t a threat so technically you assaulted him”.
So back again to Simon Harwood.
Facing hostile crowds for hours, dealing with aggressive and angry people Harwood was faced with a goading imbecile who clearly believed the cops wouldn’t dare touch him, no matter how slowly or mickey-takingly he decided to leave the area. Having had no training on how to deal with the anger that this would induce Harwood lashed out. He didn’t beat Tomlinson, he didn’t kick him, nor did he continue to physically chastise him once he went down. He shoved him in frustration, trying to make him to get the fuck out of the way. Unfortunately Tomlinson was unfit, middle aged and had ropey internal organs. As the examiner reminded me during Angry Man, you cannot hit someone who is no longer a threat, regardless of provocation.
No psychological training. No stress management training. No anger control training…and most importantly NO intention to kill or even harm Tomlinson.
PC Simon Harwood shoved Ian Tomlinson in a moment of anger. He was enduring incalculable stress and had faced insurmountable abuse all throughout his shift.
People are not machines and until the police attempt to train their officers on how to cope mentally with prolonged exposure to unpleasant and life threatening situations then NO ONE should judge Simon Harwood for what was a momentary lapse of focus.
What he did was inappropriate, but it wasn’t wrong.