This is an article I wrote some time ago, describing my experience of the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme.
Having done the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, I was a sitting target for Sir Neil Thorne when he suggested deploying me on its close relative, the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme. I agreed. If I could be a soldier while I was in the Shadow Cabinet, I could find the time to be a policeman on the backbenches. And it was a good decision.
I took part in some of the tests undergone by recruits; the initial fitness test posed little challenge. But the firearms test was a humiliation. I watched the video, with my finger on the trigger of some virtual firearm connected to a computer and was instructed to fire if the armed gunman, who had taken a child hostage in a shopping centre, opened fire. He shot me eight times before I winged a lady pushing a trolley several yards from the target. Shoot too late and you're dead; shoot too soon and you are hauled before some disciplinary body.
I got to know some of the officers quite well during my spells of duty based at Southampton Police Station - a depressing building that should be demolished. The sheer patience of the young officers was striking, putting up with intense provocation from young men looking for trouble and enraged by alcohol. I was also impressed by the team spirit; while having a tea-break during the late shift at the police station, I noticed that quickly and silently every police officer had left the room. They had picked up on their radios, which were on in the background, a colleague calling for 'assistance' and they had run to the van to help a colleague in trouble.
And then there was the 'nose' - the sense that something was not quite right about the car we were following, the man hanging around outside a warehouse, the lads in the car park. And there were some very streetwise older officers who had been around a bit, and knew every inch of their territory. We can't afford to lose too many of them. The paperwork was horrendous, with endless forms needing to be completed, many requiring the same information as on the previous one. I hope information technology and laptops can help out soon. I have vivid memories of a woman shop-lifter and a man high on drugs chatting each other up in the custody suite, while two police officers tried to find out their religion, and their state of health so the forms could be completed before they were charged. The frustration with the judicial system also came through - ingenious defence lawyers who wait to see if all the witnesses turned up before pleading guilty, knowing that if one witness did not appear they would plead not guilty and the case would be dropped.
I enjoyed meeting the Cycle Unit in Southampton - a group of seriously fit officers who could get to the scene of a crime before the car, and pursue criminals where no vehicle could go. And I enjoyed the virtual identity parade - photos of the suspect interposed with those of innocent folk - avoiding the time and expense of the real thing.
There was good co-operation with
Southampton Football Club and co-operation with the night-club owners, where the climax of my secondment took place. I was going round the night-clubs with two uniformed officers, checking on the bouncers and the videos from the security cameras. As my colleagues walked into a crowded room where a hen-party was taking place, there was silence, then cheers and applause “The strippers have arrived."