When do you ring 101? (And why do you bother?)

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The police are one of the public services that I usually feel great admiration and respect for. They are integral to society, it is a job that I could never do, and we bring our children up to believe that they represent safety.

However, last week I saw suspicious behaviour outside my house. A neighbour of mine had also noticed, and although I am not going to describe it here, suffice to say that we are not talking about a couple of school kids having a sly drag on a cigarette. I wondered what to do about it, because the behaviour was such that it was concerning, but it was not an emergency. So I decided to call the fabled 101. I say ‘fabled’ because I have heard and read so many stories now about its general inadequacies, that I am beginning to wonder if it were named to purposefully coincide with the Room 101 of George Orwell’s novel,1984, namely a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love, in which prisoners are subjected to their own worst nightmare, fear or phobia, with the object of breaking down their resistance.

I was also cautious because my husband phoned 101 a while ago to report that a public bin had smoke pouring from it. However, all it resulted in was a call back saying that the fire service couldn’t find it and inferring that my husband was making a nuisance of himself, so I approached the call with some trepidation.

Once I had been put through to Hampshire Constabulary, I explained what I had witnessed and that I had been unsure as to what to do. I also explained that the people in question had made lascivious comments to me in front of my small children, and so I became increasingly perplexed when the woman that I spoke to essentially suggested that I confront them, and asked me, somewhat brusquely, whether or not I had “asked the people in question what they were doing”, because “that’s what she would have done”.

I resisted the urge to reply, in slow tones usually reserved for conversing with those who have suffered a great shock and are unsure of their surroundings, that perhaps this is because she is a police woman, but I did respond that I had no inclination to confront a bunch of strangers, especially given that I am a female with two tiny kiddiwink sidekicks. I then proceeded to make it clear that I had little appreciation for being spoken to as though I’m an incoherent toddler, bounding out of my first day at nursery clutching a glittered bog roll in one hand and a gold star sticker in the other.

After this, I am sorry to say, I hung up. The only reason I am sorry is because something needed to be done about what I had seen – especially as I had made it clear that I was reporting a fairly regular occurrence.

I am sure that the majority of police people are helpful, caring and doing a tough job with (if it’s anything like teaching), piles of paperwork that practically pour from their eyeballs. However, society and community should be a joint effort, and being spoken to as though I’ve rung 999 to report a leaf hanging at a dangerous angle from a tree is going to help no-one.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 7th July 2015

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