Yet for all the viewer loyalty shown to programmes such as Traffic Cops and Crimewatch, and the near cult status of dramas such as The Bill, Life on Mars and Morse, the image of our real-life police has rarely been worse.
Two dramatically high-profile incidents this month have exemplified the seriously damaged image of the modern cop. First, Scotland Yard was forced by the publication of apparently incriminating video footage to swiftly suspend an officer. He allegedly assaulted the newspaper vendor who died, apparently of a heart attack, after being innocently caught up in the G20 protests in London.
Then the Yard was reduced to a laughing stock when Britain’s top anti-terror officer arrived at Downing Street displaying to waiting cameramen minute details of an impending raid on those suspected of plotting terrorist carnage. Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick had the good sense to offer his resignation within hours. The police and political PR advice to accept it with alacrity was spot on.
Still, the unravelling media disaster had further to run as details of the blundering Quick’s £100,000 per annum inflation-linked pension – payable from the age of just 49 – filled more critical column inches.
The effect of it all, only months after the end of the Sir Ian Blair disasters, has been to leave the image of the police battered yet again on all fronts.
Constantly bombarded by – and all too often pandering to the demands of – special interest groups, the police desperately need a PR voice to reconnect with the law-abiding majority whose interests should be intrinsic to their own. It is unlikely to be found in the current crop of slogans, logos and radio ads. Instead, the voice will have to focus on citizens’ need to sustain the forces of law and order. It should also emphasise the mutual interests of police and citizens. Until such a voice makes itself heard loud and clear, the PR lot of the British bobby will remain a distinctly unhappy one.