Thoughts on “bobbies on the beat”

I can’t think of interesting current stuff to blog about. But with the election looming I’ve been thinking of a couple of the old cliches, and the big one for me is bobbies on the beat. I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s because I’m young and I don’t remember The Good Old Days. But when ever I see a policeman in the street, my first reaction is to think that there is trouble ahead; criminals are behind me and the police have come to catch them. But they haven’t — they’re just aimlessly wandering around in the street.

I don’t understand what this is supposed to achieve. When I see a policeman just wandering around I think, “Why aren’t they away solving crime or catching criminals?” Do you see fire fighters wandering around looking for the first sign of a fire? Do ambulance drivers drive around looking for the nearest ill person?

And I bet that if bobbies on the beat were invented tomorrow, many would see it as another step toward a police state.


  1. It’s all about visibility and perception.

    There’ve been several studies including one where a cardboard cutout policeman placed at a supermarket checkout led to a decrease in shoplifting and one where a cardboard police car on a bridge across a motorway led to a reduction in speeding.

    As for the perception – granny perceives UK is in the grip of the worst crime wave (evar!) but is reassured by the large police presence (1 bloke walking down a street) she also perceives.

    Personally I don’t know whether patrolling the beat does do anything useful – but it certainly doesn’t harm to have police officers policing rather than administrating.