Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Instead of filming PSNI in case of drunk woman left in Derry bus lane, we should all be backing them

Do you know what is the saddest thing about the now infamous video footage of two PSNI officers leaving a drunk woman in a bus lane in Londonderry? Sadder than the fact the police made a stupid error of judgment? Sadder, too, than the fact a 23-year-old woman can blithely announce to the world that she is an alcoholic, as if that excuses her appalling behaviour?

It was the weary predictability of the political response. A chance to vent all that same old, tired old sectarian spleen that had been building up inside since the RUC was stood down and slipped into history; to give voice to the old suspicion that it was the same old force only in a groovier uniform; the big bad wolf in sheep's clothing.

For it was those who have always been traditionally hostile to the police who were most vigorous in their condemnation. No matter that they'd only a few minutes of wobbly footage shot on a mobile phone to go by and absolutely no context, the verdict was in straight away. Appalling behaviour. Sack them.

Yes, what happened on St Patrick's Day needs to be investigated. But, of course, time revealed it was far from a case of two police officers barely seeing to Bridget Mongan before they nipped down the Mace for a sandwich and a carry-out coffee.

They broke up a drunken brawl and protected the tired and emotional Ms Mongan by taking her partner into custody. Their thanks? As other CCTV footage showed, a physical and verbal onslaught by Mongan. First, she ran down the road, not to thank them for rescuing her, but instead to hurl herself at them, before swiftly lying down in the middle of the road, in the time-honoured tradition of the drunk.

With her partner in the back of the car, the officers carted her off the main thoroughfare and – wrongly – left her in the bus lane. Still, they were clearly under pressure to keep these two lovelorn individuals apart.

Not that Ms Mongan thanked them for it. "My boyfriend was arrested and I got a bit upset," she said, with considerable understatement. No such playing down, though, of the disservice done to her by the officers. "I could have been killed stone dead. What they did to me is totally unacceptable."

It is all very well for Ms Mongan to admit she is an alcoholic, as if this absolves her of blame. But she should be utterly ashamed of her behaviour.

It takes two sides to have a healthy policing culture: the police and the public supporting each other.

Yet that is something which we simply don't have. All police officers have an enormously difficult job. They have to deal with our moral garbage – and everything else. Drunks fighting? Call the police? Hoods selling drugs on a housing estate? Call the police. A body in a flat? Police. Cat up a tree? Police.

And what do we do when they fail? Wail as if they're the criminals and mutter about them needing to be better trained.

And for our PSNI, every call, every incident can lead to a brick in the face, or a bullet in the head. Two PSNI officers have already paid the ultimate sacrifice here; others have been grievously injured in our so-called peace-time.

Yet, do we support our police officers? Do we hell. We film them on smartphones (something which, if I was a PSNI officer, I wouldn't be at all thrilled about given my concerns for my personal security).

And our political parties metaphorically do the same thing ... check up on the police all the time. If the PSNI block an Orange parade, unionists are up in arms. If they protect an Orange parade, Sinn Fein and the usual fellow travellers are disgusted.

Like some surrealist groundhog day, the complaints are always the same: the police were "confrontational" and "provocative". Their tactics were "heavyhanded", or "inept".

Let's not pretend that we have a normal society. Indeed, the PSNI is both a result of – and a response to – the divisions of our society.

Quite rightly, they're subject to accountability and they are scrutinised more closely than any force on these islands.

But for our politics, the vile distrust and dislike is both a fallback and a throwback. After nearly 20 years of ceasefire and peace processes, when are we all going to accept that the PSNI are our police force? They deserve the support of the people – without that, the whole show is doomed.

So loyalists need to drop their "PSNI/IRA" cobblers and Sinn Fein its knee-jerk "SS/PSNI" posturings – leave that to your several dissidents.

And stop using bog standard errors in policing drunks like it's some make-or-break test of consent.

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